Leader Blues

Monday, June 22, 2009

TOP STORY >> Base Housing back on track

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Privatization of Little Rock Air Force Base housing — the slow-motion train wreck presided over by the Carabetta organization until American Eagle Communities derailed in May 2007 — is back on track and picking up steam.

This time the military housing team of Hunt-Pinnacle LLC is at the throttle of a new, streamlined project known as The Landings at Little Rock AFB, with new tenants set to move into new homes.

The overseers at the base say the construction and remodeling of 1,000 base housing units is well organized and well managed. No one ever said that about the Carabetta effort.

Seven months after the Hunt-Pinnacle team signed to take over Carabetta’s failed American Eagle Communities’ contract, the first residents are moving into 10 recently completed houses, according to Joanne Carlon, the capital-asset manager hired by the Air Force to ensure that the project proceeds according to schedule.

Those were homes Carabetta started but couldn’t finish.

In 2003, American Eagle Communities won an Air Force privatization contract to demolish about 500 homes, build 468 new housing units and remodel 732.

But by May 2007, when the bankers pulled the plug on the project, only 25 homes had been completed, another 25 started and perhaps 50 concrete slabs poured.

Three years into the project, American Eagle was two years behind.

Hunt-Pinnacle engineers decided that only 10 of the partially built homes could be completed.The rest and the 50 barren concrete slabs that had been poured all have been or are being bulldozed.

The reduced scope of the project that Hunt-Pinnacle signed on for was 166 new homes and 834 remodeled units, most of them duplexes.

While it took Carabetta four years to build 25 homes, Hunt-Pinnacle has an “end date” of March 2012 for everything.

Carlon makes sure Hunt-Pinnacle complies with five cartons of closing documents stacked just outside her office door.

“I don’t have near the concerns I had for (Carabetta’s) American Eagle disaster,” according to Bill Panhorst, residential construction manager for the Air Force Center for Engineering Excellence at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas.

Panhorst said he tried to notify American Eagle of its own problems during its ill-fated venture into military housing privatization and later tried to bring the problems to the attention of the Air Force engineers.

Panhorst, who has 30 years experience in construction, says he helps resolve problems between the Air Force and the contractor.

“I make sure they are doing what they’re paid for,” Panhorst said.

He said Hunt-Pinnacle’s good reputation preceded them.

“They know how to manage construction sites, move construction along. They’ve already paid one-half of their performance bonds. American Eagle just piece-mealed it together.”

The new construction is single-family homes intended for senior officers.

The remodeled units won’t include any changes to the footprint—no additions or changes—but will be completely refreshed inside and out.

On Iowa Circle Wednesday, cartons of exterior siding were stacked outside homes up and down the street. They will be re-roofed and get new soffits and gutters.

Inside, washer-drier hookups—airmen must furnish their own units—will be moved out of the kitchen.

The kitchens will receive all new cabinets, flooring, stoves, refrigerators, dishwashers and sinks.

Also on the design check list for minor renovation is replacement of faucets, sinks and garbage disposals, new countertops, new interior doors, new light fixtures, new vanity cabinet, countertops and lavatories, new medicine cabinets and mirrors, painting all walls, replacing flooring dropout, new duct work and R-30 insulation in the ceiling, according to Panhorst.

The remodeling projects are split into 12 phases at Lakeview Estates, Ridgecrest Estates and Lower Meadow Wood Estates. Each phase is its own geographic area or neighborhood. Residents have to be moved from each area to another when Hunt-Pinnacle gets down to business, Carlon said.

“We’re right in the middle of inspecting the 10 homes into which noncommissioned officers will move in June,” said Mary Holliday-Sopko, who serves as the property manager for the Landings.

Everything’s going smoothly and according to plan, she said.

A ribbon cutting for those homes is slated for June 30.

Holliday-Sopko lived in one of the units—recently demolished—as a child. She said her father retired from the Air Force at LRAFB.

“We’re in the middle of phase one — 60 homes — (and will be moving) families in during July and we’ll stay on schedule after that,” she said.

“The residents have been very patient awaiting new or remodeled units,” she said. “We’re slowly gaining the trust of the residents.”

“Hunt-Pinnacle has worked together and with the government arm,” she said. “We’re a great team.”