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Fort Carson leaders promise improvements to housing amid complaints about poor living conditions

By JAKOB RODGERS | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) | Published: June 7, 2019

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Tribune News Service) — Fort Carson officials vowed to improve on-post housing after a scathing report found decrepit conditions and poor maintenance at installations across the country, prompting an outcry from some congressional leaders.

“Are we perfect? Absolutely not,” said Col. Brian Wortinger, the post’s garrison commander. “Are we trying awfully hard? Yes, we are.”

The move came after a survey by the nonprofit Military Family Advisory Network found problems at more than 160 locations across the U.S., including every installation with privatized housing in Colorado. By far the most complaints came at Fort Carson, which has about 18,000 people living on post — roughly 10,000 of whom live in privatized family housing, the focus of the report’s concerns.

The report logged 147 complaints, topped by concerns about maintenance and service by the company that oversees post housing, Balfour Beatty Communities. Nearly 2½ times as many people gave the company negative scores, compared with positive reviews.

Wortinger acknowledged that more needed to be done to help soldiers’ families who sacrifice so much through their service.

“We absolutely owe our service members and their families the absolutely best quality housing that we can provide, because they are my brothers and sisters,” Wortinger said.

From mid-February through Wednesday afternoon, 10,995 work orders had been submitted for improvements to housing on the post, Wortinger said. All but about 500 of those had been completed, with “the vast majority” of them done within preset timeliness standards for that work.

The fixes included 253 emergency work orders, such as flooding from faulty plumbing or someone being locked out of their unit.

The rest ran the gamut, including bad carpeting, electrical issues, faulty smoke alarms, leaking faucets and broken blinds, Wortinger said. Many people also complained of mice in their units — leading the post to establish a system for responding to rodent concerns within 24 hours.

Many of the work orders came during inspections of all 3,446 family housing units during a three-week stretch this year, when criticism of on-post housing was mounting by the Military Family Advisory Network.

The nonprofit’s most recent report, released in May, found that across the nation, maintenance issues topped the list of concerns by respondents, including at each Colorado installation with housing.

At Fort Carson, for example, 63% of respondents said their units needed better maintenance, repairs or remediation — slightly higher than the national average of 56%.

Nearly a third of residents also complained of filthy conditions upon moving in and cheaply made materials in their units, such as poor carpeting. Another 28%t of respondents also complained of mold and being given dilapidated and outdated homes.

Housing on the post dates to the 1950s, and one-third of it has been built in the last 10-15 years.

Every existing unit was renovated in 1999, when the Army privatized its housing, said Hal Alguire, the post’s director of public works. But maintenance of those units has since lagged — leading to the current complaints.

On Thursday, Wortinger praised Balfour Beatty Communities as an “incredible partner.” The company has hired two resident engagement specialists, two quality control supervisors and a specialist to help improve communications with residents, he said.

Fort Carson’s public works department also added four staff members to help ensure that work orders are being processed. He said the post is working to ensure all concerns affecting the life, health or safety of family members are being addressed, and that all units are properly serviced before anyone moves into a unit. He also said 5% of work orders are being followed up by Army personnel after their completion, to ensure they were completed correctly.

An after-hours call by The Gazette to Balfour Beatty Communities on Thursday was not returned.

The response comes as Fort Carson also grapples with extensive damage from a powerful storm that pummeled the post in August with baseball-size hail.

Repairs to the military’s infrastructure is expected to cost $50 million, and another $30 million is being spent replacing the roofs and thousands of windows of houses damaged in the storm. Those repairs are expected to continue through January.

Wortinger, the post’s top officer in charge of the post’s infrastructure, as well as family and recreational programs, said he hasn’t been immune to issues with Balfour Beatty’s work, either. A worker replaced a mirror with a smaller version — leaving untouched a vast area of unpainted wall where the old mirror had been. He had to contact the company again to have the wall repainted — a request that was quickly answered.

But he knows that unfortunately hasn’t been the case for everyone.

“I don’t expect the way Col. Wortinger is treated to be necessarily the same way Pvt. Wortinger is treated,” he said. “I want to make sure Pvt. Wortinger is being treated with the same level of service.”

Wortinger emphasized that if residents have not received help through Balfour Beatty or the post’s housing office, to contact his office directly.

“If residents feel they have not achieved satisfaction with where they are in their home, reach out,” Wortinger said.

©2019 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
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