FORT POLK, La. — Housing plays a huge part in the quality of life for Soldiers and Family members, which is why the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk and Corvias have partnered to improve Fort Polk housing over the course of a three-phase, multimillion dollar project.
The $15 million phase-one development package began in April 2019 in Dogwood Terrace with renovations to 566 homes. Renovations included the replacement of roofs, some fascia rebuilding, stucco painting, gutter work and three miles of road paving. The Dogwood Terrace project is now complete at a cost of about 8 million dollars. The second part of the package focuses on Maple Terrace, which will involve similar exterior renovations to 580 homes while using the remainder of the $15 million allocation.
Betty Beinkemper, U.S. Army garrison housing assistance office chief, said the Army and Corvias, Fort Polk’s privatized housing partner, work together by sitting down and deciding what a housing area requires to return it to a standard that makes residents proud to come home.
“Dogwood Terrace is one of our older neighborhoods, so we knew it was time to begin our renovations. Now that they are complete, you can see and feel a huge difference when you ride through the neighborhood. We get feedback from residents about how proud they are of the upgrades to their neighborhood,” she said.
The quality of life improvements from these renovations are important to the Soldiers and Families of Fort Polk, said Beinkemper.
“When Families come to Fort Polk, it is integral to offer them the best housing that we can. These types of renovations not only improve the look of the homes, but they extend the lifespan of the home for several years to come,” she said.
Beinkemper said completing the renovations on time has been challenging due to issues like COVID-19 and Hurricane Laura.
“COVID-19 slowed down the construction process and closed down the neighborhood centers, but we adjusted and persevered by following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention safety measures and developing safe ways to continue work to get the job done,” she said.
“Hurricane Laura also took a toll on older Maple Terrace homes that haven’t been renovated yet, but we aren’t seeing any major damage — that’s a plus. Looking forward, roof renovations will begin in that neighborhood in the next few weeks. The new roofs in Dogwood Terrace saw very little damage,” she said.
With this successful beginning, Beinkemper said she thinks the Fort Polk command team, garrison and Corvias have worked together as a team to improve housing for those Soldiers and Families. “That means so much,” she said.
Wil Motta, Corvias operations director at Fort Polk, said Corvias is proud to be on the Fort Polk housing team renovating housing for the community.
“Renovations completed in the Dogwood Terrace neighborhood have added a welcoming atmosphere for service members and their Families, which is key for the quality of life initiative at Fort Polk,” he said.
Motta said beyond renovations, their maintenance team is key to maintaining their residents’ homes and improving their quality of life on a daily basis.
“It’s been a cohesive team effort to stay on top of work orders and make things happen. The most important part of our job is to serve our service members. We can’t control COVID-19 or hurricanes, but we are laser focused on the well being of our service members and their Families,” he said.
Motta said the work has the added benefit of extending the life of the houses.
“When you see the improvements that have been made by working with Fort Polk garrison command, the Army is ensuring that we can offer quality housing that feels like home,” he said.
Besides renovations, Motta said Corvias understands how important places like their neighborhood centers and other amenities are to residents.
“We are currently working hand-in-hand with the Fort Polk garrison command to look into the possibility of safely reopening certain amenities in light of COVID-19,” he said. “We want to be cautious and make sure we do that in a responsible way,” he said.
Staff Sgt. Chris Eckelkamp, 46th Engineer Battalion, along with his spouse, Lauren, and their two children Carson, 6, and Taylor, 10, said they have been happy with the renovations and living conditions in Dogwood Terrace.
This is the first time in 11 years that the Eckelkamps have lived in on-post housing.
After experiencing both home ownership and renting off post, they decided to give on-post living a try when they moved to Fort Polk.
“Honestly, it’s been a wonderful experience,” said Lauren. “We think of our home as a safe haven, and Corvias helps us do that.”
Lauren said they have had small issues with their home that she was surprised Corvias cared about. She said once there was a bird stuck in the hollow column of their house.
“We called them and explained that the bird was trapped, and it needed to get out. They immediately sent someone out to help us free the bird,” she said.
Then there were the more challenging issues, such as a leak from the garbage disposal and an air conditioner malfunction that flooded the front half of their home.
“We had to have the flooring pulled up and replaced. Another company brought in fans to start drying things and to keep us comfortable in the house while the renovations were taking place. They kept us up-to-date when people were coming out to work, answered all of our questions and took good care of us,” she said. “On top of the new flooring, a couple of weeks later, we got a completely new air conditioning unit. That was important to us because our son, Carson, has severe eczema, which is worsened by the summer heat. I was happy that they handled it quickly, answered all of my questions and concerns and took care of my Family’s well-being and comfort.”
Having lived off post, the Eckelkamps said they realize how beneficial it is to have someone dependable, like Corvias, to deal with every day issues rather than negotiating with a random property owner that is hard to get in touch with, or bearing the full responsibility themselves for repairs.
“If you have to depend on a landlord to fix things, sometimes they won’t get around to correcting the problem for a couple of weeks, but when I call Corvias — nine times out of 10 — somebody is here within a couple of hours, sometimes as fast as 20 minutes to fix whatever is broken,” she said.
The Eckelkamps have lived in their Dogwood Terrace home for three years and, since the renovations began, Lauren said she has noticed many of their neighbors’ homes have been painted and upgraded. The overall curb appeal of the neighborhood has gone up.
“A lot of work has been done on the older houses in the neighborhood. It’s a cleaner and prettier place to live,” she said.
Another benefit of living in Corvias housing is the community centers in each neighborhood, said Lauren.
“They play a huge role in our quality of life,” she said. “The people that work at the centers have always been wonderful to my Family. They are friendly, happy, keep us well informed and are willing to help. Even during the COVID-19 quarantine, when they were closed, I would call them about needing new air conditioner filters or light bulbs and they would say, ‘absolutely.’ Within 20 minutes, what I needed would be sitting outside my door,” she said.
Another Dogwood Terrace Family, Staff Sgt. Chad Withee, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, his spouse, Catherine, and their children, Jacob, 11, Tyson, 7 and Lillianna, 5, have great things to say about Fort Polk and Corvias.
As an Army Family, Catherine said Fort Polk has been one of the better duty stations — and homes — they have had.
“Corvias tends to respond quickly when you have an issue. Sometimes when I call the hotline to place a work order, they tell me they will call me back to schedule a time to work on the issue; but before that even happens, there’s a maintenance worker knocking on the door to fix whatever is wrong,” she said.
A roof leak at their home is the perfect example of Corvias working to correct issues in a professional manner, according to Catherine.
“We noticed water dripping into the entryway. They patched it so it wouldn’t leak into the house until scheduled roof renovations could take place. After renovations were complete, we had no issue until six months later when Hurricane Laura hit and we had a minor leak. Even with all the damage to other homes, some more severe than ours, Corvias had someone out here repairing the roof the next day, and we haven’t had any problems since that time. They have been really responsive to our needs,” she said.
In addition to the Withee’s roof, other renovations to their home included new siding and an exterior paint job.
“I think it looks really good. I like it,” she said.
Catherine said not having to worry about the home they live in truly improves her Family’s quality of life. “I know that if something goes wrong, it won’t be this huge nightmare to get it fixed. That makes it easier to move on with your daily life and takes the stress and pressure off of us when we have to deal with challenges, like my husband being out in the field or my kids getting sick,” she said.
Another plus, as far as living in Corvias housing goes, are the community amenities, said Catherine.
“We’ve never lived anywhere else that has offered anything beyond a pool. The fact that they have laundry facilities, a gym, playgrounds and entertainment rooms, where kids can sit and watch movies or play with toys, has been wonderful,” she said.
Sgt. Ethan Tharpe and his girls, Kaylin, 8, and Kielynn, 4, said that Corvias has been very good to his Family.
“I’ve never had any issues living on post or in the Dogwood Terrace community. We’ve been blessed,” he said.
Though he has had small problems, such as a roof leaking, Tharpe said Corvias repaired the issue within 24 hours and checked in for the next three days to make sure it didn’t continue to leak.
“When the hurricane came through in August, it blew the screens off the windows and a few shingles off the roof. Corvias was able to fix everything pretty quickly,” he said. “The maintenance guys are always professional.”
Regarding Corvias housing, Tharpe said he prefers life in on-post housing.
“I would rather have my kids safe and able to enjoy the amenities Corvias offers,” he said. “I’m a single dad, and the folks at the community center have always been nice to my girls. They are kid friendly.”
Tharpe said the Dogwood renovations are nice, but his quality of life has always been good in Corvias housing. “I’ve never had any issues,” he said.
At a ribbon cutting held Oct. 5, celebrating the completion of the Dogwood Terrace renovations, Brig. Gen. Patrick D. Frank, JRTC and Fort Polk commanding general, stood with the Fort Polk command team, Corvias team members and Liz Swinney, a Dogwood resident, to cut the ribbon and celebrate the successful completion of the Dogwood Terrace housing upgrades.
“The interiors of these homes were always nice, and now we have renovated the exteriors so that our Soldiers and Army Families can be proud of where they live. We want to continue seeing these kinds of improvements in our neighborhoods across Fort Polk,” Frank said.