By Jack ChavezJanuary 31, 2020
Fort Meade residents received updates on numerous issues surrounding housing and construction during a town hall Tuesday night at the Post Theater.
The town hall centered around a panel that included Maj. Gen Omar J. Jones IV, commanding general of Joint Forces Headquarters-National Capital Region and the Military District of Washington; Garrison Commander Col. Erich C. Spragg; Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Behnkendorf; Corvias operations director J.C. Calder; Corvias ombudsman Darla Humbles; and Installation Housing Office chief and project manager Debbie Faux.
In attendance were roughly 30 people plus hundreds more via livestream on the Fort Meade Facebook page.
The main purpose of the town hall was to update Fort Meade residents on the steps that Army leadership, the garrison command and Corvias have taken to improve the quality of housing on the installation since the work on remediating the housing crisis began in focus groups nearly a year ago.
The panel also discussed plans moving forward.
"Big picture, I think we continue to make progress across the installation when it comes to housing and in our barracks," Jones said to the audience. "But it's not where it needs to be. There is work to do."
Numerous times throughout the evening, Jones, Spragg and Calder urged residents to voice their concerns and not remain quiet about issues they are facing.
"Whether it is ICE [Interactive Customer Evaluation], the garrison hotline, walking into the legal office … the garrison housing office, let us know broadly what we can do better or specifically, what's not working," Jones said.
"If you tell us, we will get it fixed. I promise you [that] the commitment to get it fixed is sincere and we want to make it [right]."
In his remarks, Spragg said he wants to see Fort Meade not only overcome the challenges ahead, but prosper to the point that the installation is a "destination of choice" for any service member.
Health, education and modernization are the areas that must excel to meet that benchmark. But it won't happen overnight, he said.
"The housing crisis is 17 years in the making," Spragg said. "This is something that progressively, slowly, decayed over time."
Directing the audience's attention to a slide projector behind the panel that displayed the remediation's progress, Spragg pointed to a red, yellow and green arrow that signified where along the process Fort Meade stands.
With green being the ultimate goal, Spragg described the current process as entering yellow from red.
While not diminishing the work that lies ahead, Spragg pointed out that Corvias has remediated the mold growth in more than 1,000 homes on Fort Meade.
In his remarks, Calder went more in-depth on the steps Corvias has taken and said that air quality and visual tests were completed on all Fort Meade homes in July.
"Our priority was to address homes by the amount of mold found within them," Calder said.
If health concerns were present, the situation was handled immediately, Calder said. But the work is ongoing. Calder recommended that anyone with a mold-related health concerns should visit a physician.
About 1,000 remediations have been completed with about 1,200 to go, he said. It is expected to take until early next year to get through the remainder.
After the panel's introductory remarks, the town hall opened up for questions from audience members and those watching online.
Questions included topics like potholes around the installation; housing that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act; long-term plans for mold prevention; timeline for construction on new homes; proper avenues to report issues with construction quality and competence; recalled fire extinguishers; preventative maintenance protocol; medical records; and the Community Ambassador Program.
Concerning faulty fire extinguishers, Calder said that Corvias initially notified 300 impacted homes and eventually all 956.
The fire extinguisher issue is related to a larger recall that affected the entire country -- not just the military or residents of Fort Meade.
It's a two-year process, but most of it has been done, Calder said.
"If you believe that you have a fire extinguisher in your home that has been recalled or is not current, we can get out some communication," Calder said. "It's very easy to look at and tell [if it needs to be replaced]."
Corvias is set to begin construction on 265 new homes on Fort Meade in February.
Concerned residents asked for a timeline, details on the nature of the construction and instructions on how to troubleshoot incompetent construction work, should the issue arise.
"We've been through this before because we've built quite a few new homes," Calder said.
"We limit the traffic patterns that the contractors can use and the time of deliveries [so as to not interfere with school dismissal]."
The construction should take roughly two years, he said.
As for an avenue to relay concerns about work being done or the workers themselves, Calder urged residents to come forward as soon as an issue arises. He gave an example of one worker who was released within a day after having been discovered to be acting inappropriately.
Calder said that Corvias technicians have received training on detecting mold and he anticipates a much-improved response to any future issues.
"Something we do on all [housing turnovers] is a visual inspection," he said. "It's very important to identify any kind of water intrusion issues or anything that can lead to any kind of mold growth."
Spragg shared with the audience plans for a Community Ambassador Program, which has been under discussion with focus groups since the fall.
The program would appoint a resident of a given neighborhood as a representative. That resident acts as a conduit between the neighborhood and the garrison command for any relevant housing issues that must be addressed.
"The roles and responsibilities for ambassadors will be clearly delineated," Spragg said. "They're going to have to be boarded, vetted and approved by me."
Spragg said the garrison command and focus groups are looking into bringing leadership into the fold, possibly by having units "adopt" a neighborhood. Under that system, ambassadors would answer to a unit's leadership, who in turn would report to Spragg.
The framework is in place, and now the challenge is having the community buy into the program, Spragg said.
Residents in attendance gave positive feedback about the work that's been done and the effectiveness of the focus groups, but recognized that challenges are still ahead and improvements must still be made.
Christina Cosio-Futch, a resident of Potomac Place and one of the focus groups' founding members, said afterward that she'd still like to see the helping hand of housing officials reach every last affected resident.
"I'm looking forward to seeing how the Ambassador Program develops," Cosio-Futch said. "It's really exciting to see. But I'm still concerned that the response to residents' concerns is often uneven.
"While the service I'm getting has improved significantly, I'm still running into residents who have to call three or four times about the same issue before someone takes them seriously."
Tina Rich, a Meuse Forest resident, said she understands why some people may be hesitant to speak, but stressed that it will take more input to make significant improvements.
"I think when you feel like you haven't been heard, it takes a while to rebuild the feeling that you can get your voice out there -- that what you're going to say will make a difference," Rich said afterward.
"There's a lot of work that needs to be done. It's not going to change with just a few people. We need more help, more voices to speak up."
Rich, at one point, even earned applause from the audience for an impassioned appeal to residents to get onboard in seeing the installation through the housing campaign.
"We have a responsibility to step up and do our part," Rich said as she spoke into the microphone.
"There are just a few of us families doing this. … If you have a moment and you want to come be a part of something … [you must recognize] there is a shift in military culture happening and it's a great time to bring your voice to the table.
"You can have a voice in changing the future."