Tuesday, July 01, 2008

TOP STORY > >Builder to finish housing on base

Leader staff writer

It’s still dim, but the light is getting brighter at the end of the tunnel for Little Rock Air Force Base families living in privatized base housing.

Brig. Gen. Rowayne Schatz, base commander, told residents during Monday’s town hall meeting that construction of new homes should resume after the new year with the Hunt-Pinnacle Group at the reins.

But until then, he urged residents to continue reporting any maintenance and upkeep problems to defunct American Eagle Communities, the company responsible for property management in base housing until its contract is sold.

“American Eagle is still responsible for the maintenance and upkeep until the sale is final,” Schatz said, adding that by late August or early September, the purchase and sale agreement will be completed and signed by all parties.

By November, Schatz said, the sale will hopefully be completed with Hunt-Pinnacle the new owner and then the company and the Air Force will probably reshape the project.

“In the end we may not have as many new homes as we planned,” he said. “There are no exact figures yet on the number of houses (that will be built) and renovations.”

The original contract called for 1,200 homes by 2011 – 468 new housing units and 732 remodeled existing units — with 803 existing 1955-model homes torn down. When construction came to a standstill in May 2007, there were only 25 houses completed.

Schatz is optimistic that within a month of finalizing the sale agreement, a team from Hunt-Pinnacle will be at LRAFB and get to work. “We hope,” he said. “We heard they move fast.”

In the meantime, residents who made the choice to live on base must continue to live in homes that are more than 50 years old and in desperate need of renovations – renovations that cannot be done because American Eagle does not have the money to do them.

More than 900 homes need roof repairs following the January wind storm that swept the area.

According to the general, 937 homes received roof damage ranging from losing a few shingles to major holes.

“My biggest fear and concern on the project is that since March of 2007, the goal of American Eagle was to sell,” Schatz said.

“What about the maintenance and upkeep and how do we keep updates on 50-plus-year-old homes?” the general asked residents. “The money is not there for American Eagle to do things, but I send letters monthly telling them of things they need to do. I’ll keep the pressure on and get whatever funds we can flowing to Little Rock,” he said.

Schatz said the roof damage was covered by insurance and as of June 25, the check was in the mail.

On June 27, Schatz said, the bond holders agreed to release $600,000 for roof repairs.

“Those with tarps on their roofs will be first and we’ll work our way down. Help is on the way,” he assured residents.

But even with roof repairs on the horizon, Airmen and their families continue to live in conditions one spouse described as horrible.

“It’s frustrating that we have to live in homes that are horrible and it’s not right. It’s not our fault…we’re in limbo until they get their act together,” Carrie Boyd said.

Another spouse told the general her family’s housing contract was up in November and if they move to another base with privatized housing, she didn’t know if they would be living on base there because of the experience at the Jacksonville air base.

Schatz responded that living on base is a personal choice but told everyone not to lower their standards and expectations just because the project is on hold.

“Don’t expect substandard. They should fix things. Anyone having any problems with their home today needs to call it in; if you don’t call it in, American Eagle doesn’t know there’s a problem,” he said.

Schatz has been cautiously optimistic, but he said moving the project forward has taken longer than he wanted. Still, he said, there has been “quite a major improvement” when it came to local subcontractors getting paid.

“All liens against the project have been lifted,” he said.

Three outstanding subcontractor claims remain, but two have been negotiated and the checks, as of Monday, were ready to send out – $148,000 to JR Construction and $137,000 to Cadena Drywall.

The third claim was new, Schatz said, and still being negotiated — $11,000 to Arkansas Blinds and Shades.