October 17, 2005

Picerne: Building homes, parks, community pride

There are a lot of things changing around here and although many will argue with me, I am excited to see some of the Picerne Military Housing projects complete. This week an article I wrote about Picerne will be in the Guardian. While some may not agree with them (and at times I don't either), they are working on some badly needed projects.

-- Published Article (10.14.05) --

On Sept. 1, 2004, Picerne Military Housing took on the task of maintaining Fort Polk’s housing areas.
Since then, Picerne has initiated projects to raise the standard of housing on Fort Polk. These projects are part of the immediate impact program, an initial two-year program. Fort Polk and Picerne are partners in the Residential Communities Initiative, the privatization of military housing.
Robert Lewis, Picerne’s Fort Polk program director, said that many of the projects in the immediate impact program provide a safer environment, give families access to personnel who can help them with issues in their homes and get families new to Fort Polk in homes sooner.
“One of the biggest changes, from day one, was that families no longer had to leave family housing to get services that they needed. They went to a neighborhood office. That is a tremendous change for families here at Fort Polk.
“I think the biggest (transformation) we’ve brought to Fort Polk is (a higher) level of customer service,” he added.
“One of the difficulties when we took over was that no one (at Picerne) knew that we were going to have the transformation from (2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment) to the (4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division). The property management staff and construction teams worked tirelessly, around the clock, to get homes ready because we wanted to make sure we had places to put families,” Lewis said.
“Today we have a different challenge. We are well into the renovation program so this year during the heavy PCS summer months, property management and construction staff again worked closely to identify the homes that were needed.
“They also worked with command and the RCI group to make sure we had homes ready for families. If we had to expedite things by taking homes and doing first-turn (basis changes such as painting, and changing light fixtures, blinds and carpet), to shorten the time that a family had to wait, we made every modification to the program that we could,” he added.
According to Lewis, formerly if a house wasn’t ready, families had no choice but to wait. Now, he said, families can choose to take a home as a first-turn –– shortening waiting time.
“As we move out of the heavy PCS period, we will adjust the program again to meet the needs of the families. I think you will see a better turnaround rate in availability of homes.”
Lewis said that 1,952 of the 3,466 homes on the installation are two-bedroom, therefore families with larger housing needs may have a longer wait.
He said as new homes are renovated and built, the number of three to five bedroom homes will increase.
“There’s definitely a difference between government quarters and a Picerne Military Housing home,” Lewis said. “When a wife is standing in the driveway crying because she can’t believe the quality of home she is getting, that’s what we are here to do, that’s the difference we are here to make.
“We want to make families want to spend time in their homes and that’s what we do with the light fixtures, carpet, vinyl flooring, mini blinds and color on the walls. We turn that house into a home and the last piece of that is to put a family in.”
Lewis added that since taking over housing Picerne has worked closely with the Exceptional Family Member Program at Fort Polk to provide houses needed for these families.
Another housing project is Palmetto Park.
“Palmetto Park will be our first new neighborhood. We will be starting construction on that in September,” he said.
The park will hold 104 new E-1 through E-5 homes and will have an American heritage design, according to Lewis.
“We will bring new architectural styles to the homes at Fort Polk (such as) American heritage town homes, Southern living duplexes or Arcadian single family homes. The new neighborhoods and renovations are going to change the face of Fort Polk.”
Renovating and replacing things are only part of Picerne’s modifications.
Another addition in progress is the removal of fencing to be replaced with black vinyl covered chain-linked fences with white partitions, separating the yards in each unit.
The fencing program is currently underway in North Fort. Over the next year, 1,130 homes at North Fort will receive new fences.
A similar fence program is planned for South Fort as well.
“Today when you drive down the streets (of North Fort) and stop to look at the back of those homes, you really begin to see the transformation of the neighborhoods,” Lewis added.
“The initial reason (to replace the fences) is twofold. One is curb appeal. Old fences are in disrepair. They are falling down and there is no continuity between the materials used to make repairs,” he said.
Cost was also a consideration according to Lewis.
“Every time property management has to go out and repair one of the broken fences, it costs money.” In the long term it also cost families because the money could have been used in other areas.
“Replacing the fences and putting up a product that is durable, consistent and uniform, as well as providing fences for those who do not have one, is the right thing to do for the (community),” he said.
Lewis added that families will not be able to use privacy slats or alter or extend the fences. This was decided maintains the uniformity of the neighborhoods. He added that Picerne researched the best sized yards that would benefit each of the neighborhoods.
Fencing replacement in North Fort is expected to be complete in late spring or early summer of 2006. New fences will also be a part of the new homes constructed by Picerne. Eventually a uniform fencing system will be seen throughout Fort Polk’s housing areas.
Picerne is also reaching beyond the homes to make improvements in the neighborhoods. Bus shelters in housing communities are also being replaced.
“There will be 70 bus shelters replaced and an additional 10-20 built,” Lewis said.
“One of the first things I noticed here was the structures in place. I was in the neighborhoods mid-afternoon and I saw parents flocking to the bus stops. Parents with baby strollers and younger kids sitting under the shelters waiting for buses and I knew that’s what we needed to fix,” he continued.
He added that bus stops had no shelter from the rain and wind and he wanted to improve that for the community.
Lewis said the shelters were also designed with openings on the sides so when military police drive through the neighborhoods they can look to make sure that there are no unsafe activities taking place in shelters.
Another community area is also getting a new look.
Neighborhood playgrounds are also undergoing a face-lift through the immediate impact program.
“We wanted to (provide) a destination rather than an afterthought. If you look throughout housing you see a lot of scattered (play areas). We are trying to create a sense of community, to bring families together and everything we do is with that in mind,“ he said.
He added that by using large areas to build age specific activities and fitness sections, such as a walking/running track, creates a destination for people and enhances community involvement by bringing families together. Some of the smaller playgrounds will be phased out and others will remain once the new recreational areas are complete.
“There will be a consolidation of the (play areas within the neighborhoods). Property management has done a great job of going out and identifying unsafe equipment and removing it as well as painting and fixing existing areas,” he continued. “At end state the outdoor amusements for the kids will be increased.”
The addition of a new recreational vehicle storage area is also on Picerne’s list of ongoing projects.
Lewis said the new storage lot, located on Exchange Road, is designed to get the vehicles out of the housing area and create a more accessible location for them.
“It was also a safety issue,” he said, “with people trying to turn around or back out in the streets, impeding traffic.
Lewis added that the location is between both of the major housing areas and close to an access control point. He added that the storage unit will have enough room for vehicles to back up or turn around without having to pull out into traffic.
There will be 225 storage spaces, an increase from the current 196 lots.
“The new RV lot will also help alleviate parking problem in the (neighborhoods) because some people are keeping them in their driveways, garages and yards,” he said.
“The other storage lots will slowly be phased out and turned back into natural areas.”
Recently Picerne also added five new locations for speed bumps to control traffic. One was added to Bellrichard Avenue and four to Holmlund Street.
“Picerne’s partnership with Fort Polk has been great and there is more to come,” he said. “I think we have a lot of (excellent) things planned. We have only just begun.”
According to a total of 3,128 homes will be built or renovated over the next 11 years.

Workers build the new North Fort recreation area, which will contain play areas, exercise stations, picnic areas and a track. This is just one of the many community areas that Picerne is working to improve for the families of Fort Polk.

0 Tea Party Guest: