ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE — For months, the rumble of front-end loaders and jackhammers has competed with the whine of jet engines as work crews demolished hundreds of largely 1950s-vintage homes.
The goal is to reach 577 new or remodeled military housing units by 2014 — a decrease of more than 60 percent from a previous total of 1,477 units.
“When all the dust settles, we’ll have 207 houses on base and 370 in Huntington Village,” said Joe Ballard, director of the 78th Civil Engineering Group at Robins.
The target of 577 housing units came from an Air Force requirements and marketing analysis conducted in 2006.
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“They determined that military folks coming to Robins have so many options to rent or purchase housing in the local economy that we don’t need more than 577 units controlled by the base,” Ballard said. “So we are executing that plan.”
Robins has about 6,000 active duty military assigned, and most of them live off base.
The latest round of demolitions has leveled 238 units in the Crestview subdivision near the heart of the base. Another 100 units in the Lakeview area east and west of the base’s main north-south thoroughfare, Robins Parkway, will be removed by this summer. Fifty-two officer homes in Forest Park are scheduled to come down in 2011.
At the same time, construction teams are building 76 new homes in Crestview on land vacated by the removals. The first of the new homes are nearing completion. The 173 houses in Turner Park — a subdivision built in the mid-1990s — are being remodeled and in some cases increased in size through consolidation to yield the remaining 131 on-base units.
Hunt Building Corp. of El Paso, Texas, is the privatization contractor conducting all phases of the project under contract to the Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment at Brooks City-Base in San Antonio.
With privatization, the contractor funds demolition, renovation and new construction for the right to charge rental fees to military family tenants. Military members receive monthly allowances to cover rent and utility costs. In turn, the Air Force gains access to new or renovated units much quicker than through normal military construction channels.
Hunt already controls 670 privatized houses in the off-base Huntington Village subdivision from a 30-year contract signed with the Air Force in 2000. Robins will retain an interest in 370 homes, and Hunt will be free to market the remaining 300.
Ballard is a strong proponent of privatization.
“It gives Air Force members the best quality housing at the best price to the taxpayer,” he said. “If we relied on the military construction program to maintain and build new houses, we’d never get there. We were 35 years behind, and our folks would have been living in very bad housing.”
The Crestview demolition has been an ambitious, phased operation.
“The first step is always asbestos abatement,” said Kevin Hamilton, the on-site construction surveillance manager for the Center for Engineering and the Environment. “There was no health problem for people living in the houses, but asbestos was present in the construction materials. So that was a problem for people doing the demolition when we started busting things up.”
Hamilton said all of the asbestos-containing material was removed and delivered to a hazardous-materials landfill.
Next came removal of metal material and mechanical systems. Some of the material — particularly copper items — was sold to area scrap dealers. Concrete slabs and driveways along with brick walls were delivered to on-site crushing machines. The debris was used as fill in the new construction areas.
“We’ve crushed 70 tons of concrete and brick and used a lot of it for road subbase,” Hamilton said.
Ballard described the overall demolition and construction project as a mammoth effort.
“A project this size certainly has challenges, but to date we are on schedule,” he said. “We do a lot of construction contracts, and to have a project this size to be on schedule — and look like it’s going to finish on schedule — is a credit to the work force.”
There are significant plans for the Lakeview area once the 100 homes are cleared this summer.
Two projects — a new security forces facility and a precision measurement laboratory — are planned for west of Robins Parkway. A possible new campus for Air Force Reserve Command headquarters is planned for east of the parkway.
The Crestview demolition will leave 165 acres of vacant land that will retain the former subdivision’s internal roadways and utilities.
Ballard said there are no immediate plans for the prime tract that rests near a number of base service agencies and commercial outlets.
“It will revert back to green space,” he said, “although it will be available for future missions.”
To contact writer Gene Rector, call 923-3109, extension 239.