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Something to Bragg About

SPOUT SPRINGS – Linden Oaks has it all – four-bedroom homes with walk-in closet, single-car garage, a lawn someone else takes care of and a pool within walking distance.

There’s just one difference between this subdivision and most: the Fort Bragg checkpoint out front. (Talk about your neighborhood watch.)

Military housing has gone upscale. It’s no longer the barracks of old or the Cold War slabs from the not-so-distant past.

“It’s not your grandfather’s – or even your father’s – military housing,” says Kurt Ehlers, program director for Picerne Military Housing.

Picerne is a private company that has a 50-year partnership with Fort Bragg. It is responsible for all housing on post and, thanks to Base Realignment and Closure, Pope Air Force Base. By 2011, BRAC is expected to bring soldiers from Army Forces Command and Army Reserve Command in Atlanta to Fort Bragg. That means Picerne will build housing for some of the top commanders in the Army.

If it sounds like a big undertaking, consider these numbers. In the past five years, Picerne has built more than 1,000 homes and demolished more than 400. And by the time the initial development period is complete in 2013, Picerne expects to build about 2,652 new homes, demolish 1,568 and renovate 1,993.

On a recent spring morning, a crew of workmen gutted a home near Fort Bragg’s busy gate on Randolph Street. They tore out toilets and pried off kitchen cabinets with help from a small team of workers with the Re-Store Warehouse in Fayetteville who all wore T-shirts that said, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Fill Landfills.” The cabinets and fixtures are perfectly fine – it’s the house that’s outdated and tiny by today’s standards. The furnishings go to Re-Store for a chance at new life. And when everything possible is salvaged, the house at Fort Bragg will be stripped to bare bones, ready for an extreme makeover.

While those crews transform World War II-era cottages into modern homes complete with master bedrooms, several miles away, past Fort Bragg and beyond Spring Lake, crews are building homes from the ground up in Linden Oaks.

This is the face of military housing for the 21st century. In fact, were it not for the extremely tight security, Linden Oaks would blend right in with the other neighborhoods sprouting along N.C. 87 between Spring Lake and Sanford. More than 1,500 homes are planned here, on rolling Sandhills with acres of longleaf pines. The steel beams of a new elementary school are on the rise, and there are plans for a second one plus a middle school. There will be a “bark park” for pets and a second neighborhood center.

The first neighborhood center is more like a deluxe clubhouse, complete with fireplace, kitchen, exercise room, half-court gymnasium, playroom and game room with theater-style seats for movie nights on the large-screen television. And then there’s the enormous T-shaped swimming pool out back built for energetic laps or play beneath the 10-foot-tall cement mushroom. The center’s hunting lodge theme takes inspiration from the nearby famed Overhills estate that was once owned by the Rockefeller family.

It cost $2.5 million to build the clubhouse, a venture that wouldn’t be possible without this public-private partnership.

Linden Oaks isn’t the only Fort Bragg community with a neighborhood center. There are centers for Ardennes, Bataan and Bastogne Gables, another for Casablanca and Anzio Acres, plus centers in Hammond Hills, Nijmegen and Ste Mere Eglise. Picerne plans to build a center for Normandy and in early 2009 open neighborhood centers on Pope Air Force Base and in the Corregidor and Bougainville communities.

Since the military first privatized its housing, Picerne has taken responsibility for military housing on installations scattered across the country including Fort Meade, Fort Polk, Fort Riley, Fort Rucker and Fort Sill. The company is responsible for more than 20,000 homes on six installations and is the only one exclusively devoted to the Army, according to Bill Mulvey, communications vice president.

“That’s taking care of a lot of families,” he said.

“Previous military housing was built by the lowest bidder who then left,” Ehlers said. “We’re building these houses for our own management for 50 years.”

It is estimated that only 25 percent of Army families live on post at Fort Bragg, but Picerne still claims a high occupancy rate, about 97 percent, and a waiting list with anywhere from 500 to 750 families at any given time.

“We’re going to see increased demand in housing for a lot of reasons,” Ehlers said, including deployments. “We’re the most heavily-deployed installation in the Army. While forces are deployed there is a lot of comfort knowing your family is being taken care of on a secure installation.”

The post already has everything that any town would: stores, banks, movie theaters, bowling alleys.

And now, upscale housing.