FORT LEE, Va. (WRIC) — A 10-year, $50 million dollar renovation project is underway at the Fort Lee Army Base to improve housing for the soldiers and families.
Repairs come following complaints about poor conditions and outdated buildings. Undersecretary of the Army James E. McPherson visited the post Wednesday, for an up-close look at upgraded housing.
“It’s important for leadership to see what’s going on, to talk to soldiers, that way we stay in touch with our soldiers and they’re families,” McPherson said.
According to McPherson, 90 percent of the homes in the Army’s inventory across the country are being renovated or replaced. That figure includes more than half of the 1,500 homes located at Fort Lee.
Renovation efforts will begin at Jackson Circle, which is the oldest neighborhood on post. The Jackson Circle homes were built in 1996.
Twenty years ago, the Army recognized that military housing communities needed to be replaced nationwide but didn’t have the funding to do so.
Just recently, Army Undersecretary McPherson visited Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County, Maryland and noticed the poor conditions, such as mold in the housing units. He believes the Army needed to take responsibility.
“That’s our commitment to our soldiers,” McPherson said.
As a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, McPherson had to stop traveling. The virus took a toll on senior leadership as well as privates within the Army. He adds that it was important to get back out and travel to see Fort Lee.
The Residence Communities Initiative (RCI) allowed the Army to partner with private housing on all installations. Hunt Military Communities was chosen to do the installations at Fort Lee. Since 2018, the housing company was able to finance for renovations and for new housing. The oldest homes will be destroyed and rebuilt. The wall separating the kitchen and living areas will be knocked down to create an open floor plan. Additionally, the homes will receive brand new flooring, an updated kitchen with granite countertops and new appliances throughout the entire home.
Families will also be provided with a garage door opener. The first phase of the project will cost $15.6 million and will take almost two years to finish.
“The real miracle has been our soldiers and their families who have really embraced this new housing development, who have really had some patience with us,” McPherson said. “We appreciate that, but they know that we are responsible for providing them quality, safe homes.”
In the meantime, if a family has something that needs to be fixed, COVID-19 is delaying some work orders. According to Al Williams, the Installation Housing Chief at Fort Lee, there hasn’t been any COVID-19 concerns thus far through the work order process but orders could be delayed 14 days due to virus. If contractors are working in a specific room, family members must clear to another part of the home.
To combat this, the Army is increasing personnel to keep up with the demand. The Army has also increased ways to track the work order. If families finish the work order within a week to 10 days, contractors will be able to finish the job quicker.
Meanwhile, even in the pandemic, soldiers in the United States Military are still in training.
Trainees are surrounded by a ‘bubble,’ to help curb the spread of the virus. Trainees have started to undergo virtual training. Training used to be just hands-on with PowerPoint slides, officials say, but now younger individuals are getting acclimated virtually.
As soldiers head out on their first assignment or out in the field, they have their manual right in their hands.
“This really is the Army of the future and our young soldiers are getting after it,” McPherson said.
In addition to the housing upgrades, the Army plans to renovate barracks. The Army is also working on “Project Inclusion.”
Soldiers are having open discussions with leadership, down to the squad leader level about their personal backgrounds. The ‘Golden Triangle’ has been developed as a support system model to prevent the Army’s three cardinal sins: suicide, sexual assault and harassment and racism and extremism.
The soldier’s squad leader, ‘battle buddy’ and family, surrounds the soldier for additional support.
“We’re going after that guns loaded,” McPherson added.
The Army will renovate the next three oldest neighborhoods at Fort Lee after Jackson Circle, hoping to provide brand new homes at the Army post in the next five to eight years. The move will ultimately result in the modernization of more than half of Fort Lee’s 1,508 family housing units.
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