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Air base living getting makeover


Five-year, $170 million project includes 81 new homes and 668 remodeled ones

The Rowell family has lived in a range of military homes at Air Force bases in Texas, Florida, California and Kansas over the past two decades – including some so old they were torn down after they left.

This month, the family of four will move into a brand-new house at Fairchild Air Force Base, where Lt. Col. Bill Rowell recently was assigned to the base’s survival school. On Wednesday the family of four cut a ribbon and got the ceremonial “key” to the first house to be completed in a $170 million, five-year upgrade of base housing.

“This is kind of a nice change of events for us,” Tanya Rowell said of the two-story, three-bedroom home with a two-car garage, covered patio and a lawn that has an automatic sprinkler system.

Bill Rowell, who two months ago was in the Middle East training Iraqi helicopter pilots, put it this way: “This is definitely much better than Iraq.”

The house assigned to the Rowells during their stay at Fairchild is one of 81 new homes planned at the base over the next five years. Balfour Beatty Construction, an affiliate of the private company that maintains base housing, also is renovating 560 existing houses and turning 108 duplexes into single-family homes. It’s tearing down 387 older homes, like the one-story units from the early ’60s that stood where the Rowells and officials from Balfour Beatty and the base gathered Wednesday.

The house the Rowells and other families of senior officers will move into could sell for $250,000 to $300,000 in the Spokane market, depending on its location, Balfour Beatty officials said.

But the officers won’t own them; the government owns the land, and the company owns and maintains the houses under a contract with the Air Force.

Lee Paul, chief of programs for the base’s Civil Engineering division, said Fairchild is reducing the number of houses based on an analysis of the surrounding market. Until about six years ago, the military tried to have as many houses on a base as it could fill; now it only tries to have enough to handle what the nearby communities can’t absorb, he said.

Housing isn’t the only major construction likely coming to or near the base over the next year. The Pentagon’s budget for the coming fiscal year asks for $7.5 million for a new fuel transfer line, and $12.2 million for a complex of buildings assigned to the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency survival training facility outside Airway Heights. The complex will include offices, classrooms and other training facilities.

Earlier this week, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., added another $11 million to the nation’s military construction budget, for the first phase of a project at the survival school on base. That money would be used to build an office center for various units at the school to replace old dormitories and a single-story building now used for an office.

The office renovations have been at the top of the survival school’s priority list for about 10 years, Paul said, but failed to make the cut because they are so expensive.

By breaking the renovation costs into two phases of roughly equal amounts, the project has a chance of clearing Congress this year and next as an add-on to the military construction budget.

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