New-Home Construction, Renovations Shine at Fort Meade
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
FORT MEADE, Md., Aug. 20, 2004 About 100 families have already moved into Potomac Place, the first Picerne Military Housing community to be built here.
A total of five new neighborhoods will be built at Fort
Meade, Maryland within the next eight years. Picerne Military Housing is
building four different model homes on the military installation. The company
will manage and maintain the properties over the next 48 years. Once completed
there will a total of 3,170 homes. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The Army contracted with Picerne Military Housing as part of the Residential Communities Initiative. Under this program, the Army partners with a private developer to build, renovate, manage and maintain family-housing communities on a base. The developers provide the capital and expertise, and the service conveys the housing to them along with a long-term lease on the land. The developer receives the basic allowance for housing of servicemembers living in the units.
Although Potomac Place is in its first phase of development, Bill Mulvey, Picerne Military Housing communications director, was anxious to show off the community. Located on 45 acres near an on-post golf course fairway, the development features manicured lawns, professionally landscaped gardens and a community center that rivals most country clubs.
The community center sports a big-screen television, a game room complete with pool table, an inside basketball court, and a fitness room with the latest equipment. There are also conference and meeting rooms, a business center, and a computer room with Internet access.
Just installed at the center is a kiosk with a tiny camera that allows a person to send voice messages and video images anywhere in the world. "There is a line waiting to use this at Fort Bragg," Mulvey said, referring to another base where the company is building privatized housing.
He tells the story about a congressional and Army delegation that toured the facility in December 2003. Mulvey said one delegation member remarked that the community center looked more like a country club, and asked, "What do you have to do to get a membership?"
Company president and chief executive officer John Picerne's response was: "Join the Army," according to Mulvey.
A retired Army colonel, Mulvey admitted the junior enlisted housing at Potomac Place was by far better than Army housing he was used to.
He said he remembers being a young Army captain living in a two-bedroom unit at Fort Benning, Ga., with no air conditioning. "This would have been heaven," he said. "We didn't even have a garage, not even a carport."
However, providing military families with more than housing was part of the plan for the new military communities on Fort Meade, Mulvey said.
"That's the whole idea," he emphasized. "We asked the residents -- those living on post, off post, teenagers, all ranks: 'What do you want in a house?' And we designed these houses by what they told us they wanted."
"There is not a standard Picerne house that we build. These are Fort Meade houses that the Fort Meade residents said they wanted."
For example, Mulvey said, for years the military requirement was that the washer and dryer must be on the first floor because of plumbing. "But the focus groups wanted their appliances near the bedroom, where the dirty clothes are," he said.
In a separate Fort Meade neighborhood where mid-level officers have begun moving in, the homes contain a separate living room and a family room with a gas fireplace. For safety the company added carbon monoxide detectors along with the standard smoke alarms.
The company also added a large center island in the kitchen with an overhanging counter top where people can pull up stools. "The island was another request the focus groups wanted," Mulvey said.
"Our philosophy is families first," he explained. "Every decision we make is based on what's best for the family. We really feel that these soldiers are doing something great for our country and we should give them a decent place to live."
Inside the Potomac Place community center, friends Geneva Simmons and Anne Searcy said their new neighborhood has provided them everything they want. The two had just finished working out in the fitness room, while their children watched television and read books in the adjacent playroom.
Asked about her thoughts of the Potomac Place, Simmons was at a loss for words. "I don't know how to describe it," she said. "It's like a dream. It's bigger, obviously it's brand new, and we love it. We wake up every day and feel like we were so lucky to get here."
Added Searcy, the wife of Army 2nd Lt. Timothy Searcy, now stationed in Iraq: "It's hard to believe that this is military housing, because when you look at it, you say, 'This is on a military base?' It's just incredible."
When told of the newly installed kiosk that would allow her to send a video message to her husband in Iraq, she voiced out loud her amazement: "That's awesome."
Simmons said she likes the neighborhood and home. "I have a real kitchen; I don't have a little L-shaped closet."
She said her kids especially love the swimming pool that offers two water fountains.
Searcy, who was formerly on active duty, has lived in military housing at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska and Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. She said her new Fort Meade space is just huge. "The kids," she added, "finally have a place to run."
The bedrooms inside the townhouses at Potomac Place are large enough for king- and queen-sized beds, another request made by focus groups, Mulvey pointed out.
Simmons said their move to Potomac Place has even made a difference in her relationship with her husband, Sgt. Joshua Simmons, and has helped her change her thoughts about the military.
"I'm happier," she said. "I stay at home and have three children, and he knows I'm happy, so we're both happier together."
Those are the kind of words any military service wants to hear from its families. Improving the quality of life for service members is a overall goals of privatization, Mulvey said.
"The soldier volunteered, and he gets to do what he wants to do," he said, "and the family just follows along. So they get stuck with the quality of life at whatever post they are."
He said the Army figures that by keeping families happy, it's going "to keep soldiers around longer, so it's really an investment in retention."
Picerne also has an investment at stake. Mulvey said the Picerne family put $10 million of its own money upfront to secure the more than $385 million needed to start the construction project.
The company leases its Fort Meade communities for the next 50 years and will receive servicemembers' basic allowance for housing, which currently ranges each month from $1,167 for an E-1 through E-4 to $1,864 for an O-6.
Mulvey said the company doesn't expect to start getting a return on its investment until after the first 10 years. "The Picerne family put a lot of their dollars into making this happen, but they're doing it for the right reasons. So we do feel good about it."
A look inside one of Fort Meade's old townhouse units, most of which have stood for more than 40 years, explains in part the Army's move to privatized military housing.
Inside the existing Argonne East unit, the tiled floors have yellowed from years of waxing, layers of military-issue white paint coat the windows and cabinets. The three bedroom, one-and-a-half bath townhome is cramped, to say the least.
"This is as bad as it comes," said Mulvey.
Going to privatized military communities allowed the Defense Department to rebuild its aging military housing and improve the quality of life for servicemembers and their families faster and at a lower cost to American taxpayers.
At Argonne East, Picerne keeps the old townhouse unit in its present state to give visitors a before and after view, what Mulvey calls a "then and now" of the difference that RCI is making in the living conditions for military families.
Over the past two years Picerne has refurbished thousands of the homes like this, adding new kitchen appliances, sinks, counters, linoleum and carpet. "The Army was afraid of carpeting," Mulvey said. "We're not afraid of carpeting. Somebody lives here three years, they move out, there are stains on the carpet, we'll put new carpet in."
He noted that such touches are temporary until the company can tear down the old units and build new ones. Still, Picerne's patchwork on the Argonne East townhouses and other homes on Fort Meade are a dramatic improvement.
A few streets over, behind trees and next to the golf course, construction continues on several new neighborhoods that will one day become the permanent home for military families on Fort Meade.
Picerne's plan for Fort Meade calls for a total of five new neighborhoods and 3,170 new homes to be built over the next 10 years, making it one of the largest home developments in Maryland. Each neighborhood will have between 400 to 600 homes, Mulvey said.
The average size of each home is expected to be over 1,700 square feet, with most featuring two and a half baths, separate dining room, family room, breakfast nook, garage and porch.
Mulvey said that all new homes will range in size from three to five bedrooms, with 70 percent of the homes being four- and five-bedroom units. "People don't want two bedrooms any more," he pointed out.