Compromises give Lakenheath housing British charm with American amenities
RAF LAKENHEATH — Like many of the facilities throughout European Command, the housing at RAF Lakenheath is a throwback to another time. A time more than 50 years past.
So, when Air Force planners were deciding whether to renovate these wheezing structures or build new ones at the air base, the decision was made to just knock it all down. Sometimes it’s better to start from scratch.
The fruits of that decision, made about five years ago, are becoming more apparent with each passing day at Lakenheath, as builders finish the first phase of a five-part, approximately $200 million housing development called Liberty Village.
The first 27 of what will eventually be 606 new homes are slated to be handed over to airmen and their families Dec. 1, said Lt. Col. David Carlon, an Air Force civil engineer for the United Kingdom.
“The decision was made to repair by replacement,” Carlon said. “We’re going to demolish 606 (homes) and build 606 new.”
As phase one’s 89 units are finished this year and next, the demolition of old homes on the phase two site will begin this month, Carlon said.
It’s a long, drawn-out process, and construction will continue for the next couple of years before all 606 new homes are in place, he said.
“Because we do have such a housing crunch, we couldn’t just give them over all at once,” Carlon said.
The human factor has resulted in the Liberty Village project being done in deliberate chunks, and it’s been a delicate balancing act to decide when to move airmen and their families out of old housing that is slated for demolition, Carlon said.
Factors such as how much longer the airman will be at Lakenheath and whether he is deploying are being taken into consideration, Carlon said. People are put in temporary lodging or moved off base if their current home needs to be knocked down.
In the meantime, Lakenheath housing and Air Force planners continue to search for other viable and permanent off-base housing options for the more than 10,000 airmen and family members who constitute the Lakenheath community.
The new homes
Today’s housing facilities at Lakenheath are multi-unit, aged brick buildings that seem to be spread out randomly across the base, with little or no visible planning, Carlon said. While Liberty Village will feature a denser layout of units, the design will allow for a more neighborly feel, with playgrounds and parks interspersed between houses and walking paths connecting much of the development.
Biking down the street with his 4-year-old daughter Sophie last week, Senior Airman Daniel Martinez said he would welcome some new housing at Lakenheath.
The unit he and his family live in now, just down the street from the Liberty Village site, is not terrible, but it is getting on in age.
One thing he said he’d like to see is carpeting that doesn’t stain so easily.
“A lot of people have stopped buying red Kool-Aid for that reason,” he said.
Martinez said there are also problems with older water fixtures that he would like to see go away with the new units.
“The ones I’ve visited need to be taken down, at least 50 percent,” he said of the current housing. “They’ve just been there a really long time.”
Liberty Village also had to be approved by the Forest-Heath District Council, which is the local English governing body, said Howard White, project manager for the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Estates, which oversees British military land.
Compromises had to be reached with the local governing council to make the project go forward, he said. As a result, the whole development will have a smaller, more decidedly British feel to it.
But concessions also were made in favor of the Americans, and Liberty Village homes will feature larger rooms and garages than their British counterparts would outside the base gates, White said.
Residents can actually get an American car in the garages, he said.
Among other amenities, homes will feature English and American power outlets, Carlon said.
In order to get approval for the new housing, the whole thing had to be designed in a way that lined up with English standards, White said.
“[Local authorities] have got to look at the long term, that if the USAF leaves, the [Ministry of Defence] will have to sell off these units,” he said. “They’ve got a long life in front of them.”