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SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Over the next year, 143 new housing units will open — or will at least be close to opening — for families within the Sasebo Naval Base community.

Yet that abundance of new, on-base apartments, townhouses and homes will make barely a dent in Sasebo’s housing shortage, where nearly half the families must live off base.

As these new units open at Main Base and Hario Village, existing units will be razed to make way for a Japanese highway project.

Soon after, Hario’s oldest apartment tower will close for renovations. At the same time, all of Hario’s townhouses will begin a rotation for renovations, another move that will take housing off the market, according to Sasebo’s housing director, Gail Benton.

It all means that like the housing office’s long waiting lists, patience, too, must be drawn out, Navy officials said during interviews and town hall meetings at Sasebo last month.

The ultimate payoff — base housing for all families that want it — remains about a decade away, according to Lt. Cmdr. Brett Blanton, the base’s public works director.

In the end, base housing will increase by 62 percent, from the current 654 units to 1,052 units in the long term, according to the public works office.

“Everybody that wants to live on base, that (qualifies to) live on base, will be able to without making it mandatory,” Blanton said during an interview last month.

As those long-term plans materialize, however, many Sasebo families already assigned will continue to wait for homes that fit their size and rank to become available, Benton said.

Currently, there are about two dozen different waiting lists, Capt. Tilghman Payne, Sasebo’s commander, told Hario residents at a town hall meeting last month.

Even though the renovations won’t start for another two years, the wait will get longer for now, said Benton, explaining that Sakura Tower must be empty by the spring of 2009 to make way for its first overhaul since opening in 1988.

Keeping a few apartments open as families move out will avoid multiple moves later on, she said.

For the long-term expansion, the Japanese government recently provided Navy officials with 19.5 acres of land next to Hario, Blanton said.

The details of the project still are being negotiated with the Japanese, Blanton said. An artist’s rendering in his office shows a mix of low-, mid- and high-rise dwellings, with athletic fields and other facilities scattered around.

It’s too early to say how the long-term changes might affect schools at Sasebo, according to Charles Steitz, spokesman for Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific.

Currently, young students living at Hario go to Hario’s J.N. Darby Elementary, while those living on Main Base or off-post go to Sasebo Elementary at Main Base. Older students go to E.J. King High School, also on Main Base.

Currently, there are no new construction projects for schools at Sasebo, though DODDS-Pacific officials are keeping a close eye on student-to-teacher ratios, Steitz wrote in response to questions. Enrollment at Sasebo’s three schools is at about 720 and could absorb about 40 more students without substantial changes, he said.

Stars and Stripes reporter Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.

The renovations

In summer and fall of 2008, 21 housing units on Main Base will get $3.8 million in renovations, according to housing director Gail Benton and Sasebo Naval Base’s public affairs office.

The following year, renovations on Sakura, a 68-unit building, and 216 townhouses are planned. The costs for renovations at the townhouses are $32.7 million and $8.5 million in the tower, according to Navy officials.

The townhouses will be done in phases and, in many cases, the vacancies can be planned in conjunction with permanent-change-of-station moves, Benton said.

The tower, however, must be vacated during the work, Benton said. In the coming year, Benton may keep some of those units vacant to avoid a mass of moves just before construction and to avoid having families move two or three times during their Sasebo stay, she said.

As the renovations near, she will hold a building-wide meeting to explain the upcoming moves. All renovations are being paid for with Defense Department money, Benton said.

The replacement housing

The Japanese are building a new highway through Sasebo, and a portion of it will pass over current housing units on Main Base. To make way for the highway, a 16-unit apartment complex and 11 houses will be razed, according to Lt. Cmdr. Brett Blanton, Sasebo’s public works director.

To compensate for that, the Japanese have built Fiddler’s Green, a $23.7 million, 11-unit complex just outside of Main Base which is soon to open. The houses will be home for senior officers and ship and base commanders.

The new housing

U.S. and Japanese officials have a decadelong plan to address the housing shortage at Sasebo.

Already, the Japanese have built a $27 million, 44-unit tower on Hario Village that should be open shortly, according to housing officials.

In the long-term, the plan is to add 398 units to base housing, according to Blanton.

— Teri Weaver

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