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Hundreds of homes for Navy families

The post-World War II era is about to end for hundreds of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station families stuck in old-style military housing.

Over the next 24 months, 360 new single-family homes will be built in the Navy’s Crescent Harbor and Seaplane Base communities.

They will replace houses built as far back as 1946 and 1949, and duplexes built in 1951, according to Navy records.

Upgrading of sewer, water and other infrastructure to accommodate the modern housing began about 45 days ago and demolition of existing structures will begin soon. Construction of the new houses is scheduled to start in January.

Clint Miller, director of American Eagle Design Build Studio, whose parent company the Pentagon contracted with to privatize military housing, was in Oak Harbor last week visiting from his office in Dallas. “The Navy wants to make sure their families are taken care of,” he said.

Activity is picking up quickly at the two sites as contractors hurry to get ready for construction. “In the next 60 days there’ll be a lot more people out there,” Miller said. The prime construction contractor is Millinder-White Construction of Denver and Bellevue, but Miller said many of the subcontractors are local businesses. “We were told it would be tough to find a labor source here, but it was better than at Bangor,” he said, alluding to a similar American Eagle project on the Kitsap Peninsula.

Military families living in the areas have already received notice to vacate before construction. Kim Martin, NAS Whidbey public information officer, said Tuesday that most people have already found alternative housing. About 160 housing units will be demolished at Crescent Harbor and 100 at the Seaplane Base in preparation for new construction.

When families return to Crescent Harbor and the Seaplane Base late next year, the residents will find modern developments that look like anything but the cookie-cutter military quarters from last century.

“When they’re done they’ll be much like any master planned community, with streets, recreational facilities and trails,” Miller said. About 228 of the houses will be built at Crescent Harbor and 132 at the Seaplane Base.

Miller estimates the total cost of the project at $70 to $75 million.

Navy families will find their new homes are 50 to 75 percent larger than their previous dwellings, all with two-car garages, plentiful storage and open floor plans.

Miller said the communities will never become an eyesore. “We have to maintain these homes for 50 years,” he said, referring to American Eagle’s contract with the military. “We can’t sell them and walk away.” To that end, the homes will be built to last, right down to the Energy-star, high-end appliances.

The typical home for enlisted families will contain approximately 2,000 square feet of living space and three bedrooms.

Last February, the Navy awarded a $248 million contract to American Eagle Northwest to provide high quality affordable housing to military families in the Pacific Northwest at NAS Whidbey, Naval Base Kitsap, Naval Station Everett, and smaller facilities.

The contract privatized Navy housing, but American Eagle still has to follow Navy housing regulations. “The Navy wanted out of managing housing,” Miller said. “They wanted out of the housing business . . . but we still had to meet Navy requirements.”

Capt. Syd Abernethy, Commanding Officer, NAS Whidbey, sees two benefits to working with American Eagle. It “will provide our military families with homes that reflect today’s family size and lifestyle,” he said. “Even more important from a Navy perspective, it allows the housing professionals to take on this task so the Navy can focus on core missions that ensure we have aircraft ready for tasking.”

After nine months of working with American Eagle, Abernethy said progress is being made in working together. “We continue to make great strides in understanding each other’s business cultures and the value of effective and timely communication - with each other and those we serve.”

The cost of Navy housing is deducted from the sailor’s paycheck, which goes to American Eagle. Miller said this process provides the “revenue stream” which American Eagle uses to build, upgrade and maintain its housing. “The families don’t write a check or do the paperwork, the Navy writes us a check,” he said.

American Eagle recently finished its first Northwest housing project at Bangor, which is part of Naval Base Kitsap. Miller witnessed one sailor who was on deployment return home to his new house. “He wasn’t quite sure where he was,” he laughed. “People don’t seem to be real excited about it until it’s in their own backyard.”

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