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Civilian landlord prepares to start repairs to Tyndall AFB housing

By ED OFFLEY | The News Herald, Panama City, Fla. | Published: April 25, 2019

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — With a new shingled roof and a front yard clear of debris, the spacious house at 4414 Raptor Circle appears generally intact six months after Hurricane Michael.

It's an illusion.

One of 37 houses in the Island View residential area that is home to the base's most senior officers, the one-story brick structure, in Dick Cole's taut phrase, is "a full interior demolition." The new roofing essentially protects a skeleton framework of 2x4 wall studs, head walls and roofing beams sprayed white with a mildew-preventing solution. The ghostly wood beams stand on a bare concrete foundation. Everything else has been removed.

Now, after months of site preparation, Balfour Beatty Communities LLC, the civilian landlord for Tyndall housing, is preparing a reconstruction program to rebuild this home and more than 350 other storm-damaged housing units between now and 2022-23.

Cole and Geoff Hutcherson, procurement director for the company subsidiary, Balfour Beatty Renovations, this week hosted more than 50 contractors to tour the base housing areas. In site visits on Tuesday and Wednesday, they provided tours of the storm-ravaged housing areas and provided information the contractors will need to submit detailed bids for the rebuilding work.

Operating on an "expedited" bidding process, Cole said his company intends to start selecting repair and renovation subcontractors next month. Invitations have gone out to contractors involved in practically all areas of residential construction, including drywall, insulation, flooring, carpentry, electrical work, HVAC, plumbing and countertops/cabinets. The deadline for bid submissions is May 10, Cole said.

Further complicating what already is a massive rebuilding effort, there are 35 different floor plan designs for the Tyndall homes, and each one has to be evaluated separately given the wide spectrum of storm damage, Cole explained.

"We're asking for itemized bids on each house including material costs, labor costs, and any overtime per diem to cover out-of-area contractor lodging needs," he said.

Cole, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who served with the service's Corps of Engineers during his 25-year career, including public works director at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, had worked for Balfour Beatty Communities LLC for more than a decade before opting to retire last June.

"My goal was to go trout fishing," he said with a husky laugh. But when Michael's eye roared over Tyndall's runways on Oct. 10, flattening most of the buildings and structures on the base, Cole agreed to set aside his fishing tackle and rejoin the company's rebuilding effort here.

The magnitude of the project is almost overwhelming, Cole said. Under the public-private partnership that governs Tyndall Air Force Base housing, Balfour Beatty owns and manages 867 housing units. None of them, he said, escaped damage from the wind, flying debris and rainfall. To date, his team has come up with plans to repair 587 of them, with 48 homes deemed too structurally damaged to save.

Another 54 older homes in the Shoal Point and Bay View neighborhoods — readily visible on the north side of US 98 immediately east of the Dupont Bridge — also are slated for demolition. The two residential areas lie directly under the flight path of the base's main runways, and Air Force officials had planned long before Hurricane Michael to remove them out of safety concerns.

While Balfour Beatty several months ago came under criticism from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis for a seeming lack of movement on restoring Tyndall housing, Cole said that it was necessary first to remove debris blocking the streets and yards, and then allow evacuated residents to return to retrieve any personal belongings that were still intact. For the past months, teams have inspected and gutted the damaged structures of all material that suffered water damage or mold.

The company has budgeted $28 million for such "remediation" work preserving the homes from further damage, Cole said. Asked for an estimate on the overall cost to rebuild, he chuckled.

"There are numbers, but they're not worth sharing," Cole said, saying it is too early to compile any accurate total. "It is going to be expensive."

The storm damage in Island View — scheduled to be the first neighborhood to be rebuilt — clearly confirms that military rank had no privileges at the hands of the hurricane's 161-mph. winds.

Standing in an open space that had been the living room at 4414 Raptor Circle, Cole held up his cellphone. It showed a baby grand piano buried in waterlogged roofing insulation that had fallen through the ceiling when its weight became too much for the ceiling material to handle.

"We'll return this neighborhood as best we can to its pre-storm status. That's our goal," he said.

©2019 The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.)
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