Leader Blues

Friday, November 07, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Base housing goes forward

Despite an economic turndown that has stalled construction across the United States, several major building projects are set to take off at Little Rock Air Force Base, which will benefit all of central Arkansas.

As part of the military’s nationwide privatization program, a new contractor has agreed to rebuild and remodel some 1,000 homes on base. Eighteen months ago, American Eagle Communities abandoned the $106 million construction project here and gave up work at other bases, but the Air Force has now turned over the privatization contract to Hunt Development Group of El Paso, Texas, and Pinnacle Development of Irvine, Texas, ensuring completion of the ambitious project that will replace 1950s housing with a more stylish contemporary look, along with modern conveniences that military families deserve and expect.

This is a welcome development, even though the project is two years behind schedule. Our senior writer John Hofheimer has reported in a prize-winning series on the housing fiasco involving American Eagle Communities at LRAFB and at other bases.

Creditors were often shortchanged and very little work was done. But the Air Force was determined to go forward with the privatization program, and it looks like it has found the contractors who can finish the project. Its resumption in these tough economic times shows the Pentagon’s commitment to the base, which has been the recipient of more than $1 billion in recent investments.

There’s plenty of other good news at the air base: Construction will soon start on a college-level schoolhouse funded through a partnership with Jacksonville and the military.

The $14.8 million joint-education center will open in front of Little Rock Air Force Base, paid for in part by Jacksonville residents who approved a 1-cent sales tax five years ago to help pay for the campus in cooperation with the Air Force. The campus will offer college-level courses for both the military and civilians through Pulaski Tech, ASU-Beebe and other institutions of higher learning. In effect, Jacksonville will have its own college campus, putting an emphasis on education for the young and adults as well, cultivating minds and moving the community forward.

The joint-education center will cement a unique bond between the city and the base and could serve as a model for other communities in the U.S. This partnership is the first of its kind in the nation, which is why Brig. Gen. Rowayne Schatz, commander at the air base, and other high-level military officers have thanked Jacksonville for its generous gift, which is reminiscent of the donation of land the Air Force received when it built the air base more than half a century ago.

The city has already handed over a $5 million check for the education center, which the Pentagon will complete in two years with a $9.8 million defense appropriation that was shepherded through Congress by Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., who was at the base on Friday for the dedication of a $6.1 million dining facility. He has also been responsible for a magnificent gym and numerous other projects on base.

When you include some $50 million in recent construction projects, as well as a $10 million runway renovation that is set to start soon, and the 17 C-130Js stationed here at the base, which are worth more than $1 billion, you can see the enormous investment the Air Force keeps making in this community.

Jacksonville’s $5 million donation for the education center is yet another investment in a multi-billion enterprise that should return generous dividends for decades to come.