Wright-Patterson Considers Spending Millions to Restore Historic Homes

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base

The Air Force is exploring a "full gamut" of options to tear down, privatize or spend millions of dollars to renovate as many as 89 historic brick homes at Wright-Patterson, which has nearly all of the existing government-owned homes in the military branch.

The Air Force says better housing is needed for 30 undisclosed "key and essential" personnel -- senior military and civilian leaders -- who need to live on base because of their jobs.

Project leaders are asking for public input on a dozen alternatives under consideration, including demolition, renovation, privatization and new build homes, or a mixture of all of those options, according to Michael D. Ackerman, an Air Force Civil Engineer Center planning expert at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas.

"They run the full gamut," he said.

Wright-Patterson has 100 of the existing 109 government-owned homes on Air Force bases, the remaining nine of which stand at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

Historic homes

Built in the mid-1930s, the Tudor Revival-style homes in the Brick Quarters Historic District at Wright-Patterson are eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places, officials said. A major renovation could reach between roughly $50 million to $60 million, or $600,000 to $700,000 for each home, according to Air Force estimates.

"A major renovation really gets the project ready for more than 30 years of useful lifespan," Ackerman said. Some of the homes would get a fourth bedroom, an additional half bathroom, new garages, electrical and plumbing renovations, shingle and cooper roof replacements, and other interior renovations, repairs and infrastructure replacement, documents show.

A less extensive renovation would cost between $9 million to $18 million, or $100,000 to $200,000 for each home, Ackerman said.

The renovation or redevelopment options could mean the government or a private developer tearing down some homes, renovating others and setting aside dozens for temporary lodging.

Surrounding by a golf course, the homes have a cement pond with turtle statutes as a center point of the neighborhood. Most of the homes are between 1,800- and 2,500-square feet.

Ten homes built in the 1975 along Yount Drive would be demolished, plans show.

Apart from the historic neighborhood, the Air Force could renovate the Foulois House, a one-time farmhouse built in 1874, and home to a high-ranking general.

The homes have become more expensive to maintain as the housing stock has grown older, Ackerman said. Each unit costs about $8,000 a year to maintain, according to Wright-Patterson figures. About 85 to 90 percent of the units are occupied.

Wright-Patterson contacted the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C., and the State Historic Preservation Office, officials said.

"Our preference is always preservation whenever possible, but we certainly understand that we need to work in tandem with Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to find solutions that make sense given their goals with this project," said Emmy Beach, a spokeswoman at the Ohio History Connection.

Dan Barton, an official with Preservation Dayton, Inc., said federal and state tax credits can be used as a cost-effective incentive to encourage developers to preserve historic properties.

A decision on options -- one of which includes doing nothing apart from home maintenance -- is expected next year. The Air Force has not set a date on when work might start.

Cost overrun

A renovation of the Tudor-style Charles Taylor brick home at Wright-Patterson cost $1.3 million, or $400,000 more than was budgeted, this newspaper reported in 2012.

The 3,500 square-foot, three-bedroom, three-bathroom home was designed to offer a "five-star experience" for VIP guests, a base spokesman said then.

Vacant before the renovation, the building serves as a hotel for "distinguished visitors," or officers at the rank of colonel or above, and civilian executives.

The Charles Taylor House, named after the Wright brothers mechanic, is less than a mile from the privately run Hope Hotel next to the base. However, Air Force policy stipulated VIPs can stay at the hotel only if no on-base facilities are available, spokesman Daryl Mayer said in 2012.

With future work on the brick homes possible, project officials will outline the options at 6:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday in public hearings in the Fairborn High School auditorium, according to base officials. The open houses, meant to gather public feedback, are set from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The information will be gathered as part of an environmental impact statement required under federal rules.

An Air Force survey last year of Brick Quarters Historic District neighborhood residents showed about 74 percent chose renovation of the existing homes as a better alternative to building new new homes. Nearly 13 percent preferred new-build living quarters.

Some 75 percent of respondents wanted a "modern bathroom" and nine percent an additional bedroom, a document showed.

Some respondents said they were dissatisfied with the small size or layout of kitchens, bathrooms, closets and garages, the survey said. They also reported maintenance woes with heating and air conditioning, drainage problems or basement flooding, mold, water quality issues, bugs, and old windows, among other concerns.

Nearly 71 percent said they were "very satisfied" with the "feel and setting" of the neighborhood, the survey said.

The Air Force privatized most of its housing more than a decade ago.

Wright-Patterson privatized 1,536 housing units both on and off base, most of which are occupied by military personnel. Many of the rest, an exact number was not available, are leased to the public. The home were privatized between 1998 and 2002.

Those units are meant for "lower ranking personnel" and do not meet the housing standards for "key and essential" senior leaders whose positions require them to live on base, according to the Air Force.

Military personnel receive an allowance in their paychecks to cover the expense of housing. Those who live in government-owned housing don't receive that benefit, however, officials said.

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