FORT MEADE, Md. -- About 100 families have already moved into Potomac Place, the first Picerne Military Housing community to be built here.
The neighborhood of single-car garage townhouses for military families will eventually have more than 500 homes nestled on the tree-lined streets that bear the names of Civil War Medal of Honor recipients.
The Army contracted with Picerne Military Housing as part of the Residential Communities Initiative. Under this program, the Army partners with a private developer to build, renovate, manage and maintain family-housing communities on a base. The developers provide the capital and expertise, and the service conveys the housing to them along with a long-term lease on the land. The developer receives the basic allowance for housing of servicemembers living in the units.
Although Potomac Place is in its first phase of development, Bill Mulvey, Picerne Military Housing communications director, was anxious to show off the community. Located on 45 acres near an on-post golf course fairway, the development features manicured lawns, professionally landscaped gardens and a community center that rivals most country clubs.
The community center sports a big-screen television, a game room complete with pool table, an inside basketball court, and a fitness room with the latest equipment. There are also conference and meeting rooms, a business center, and a computer room with Internet access.
Just installed at the center is a kiosk with a tiny camera that allows a person to send voice messages and video images anywhere in the world. "There is a line waiting to use this at Fort Bragg," Mulvey said, referring to another base where the company is building privatized housing.
He tells the story about a congressional and Army delegation that toured the facility in December 2003. Mulvey said one delegation member remarked that the community center looked more like a country club, and asked, "What do you have to do to get a membership?"
Company president and chief executive officer John Picerne's response was: "Join the Army," according to Mulvey.
A retired Army colonel, Mulvey admitted the junior enlisted housing at Potomac Place was by far better than Army housing he was used to.
He said he remembers being a young Army captain living in a two-bedroom unit at Fort Benning, Ga., with no air conditioning. "This would have been heaven," he said. "We didn't even have a garage, not even a carport."
However, providing military families with more than housing was part of the plan for the new military communities on Fort Meade, Mulvey said.
"That's the whole idea," he emphasized. "We asked the residents -- those living on post, off post, teenagers, all ranks: 'What do you want in a house?' And we designed these houses by what they told us they wanted."
"There is not a standard Picerne house that we build. These are Fort Meade houses that the Fort Meade residents said they wanted."
For example, Mulvey said, for years the military requirement was that the washer and dryer must be on the first floor because of plumbing. "But the focus groups wanted their appliances near the bedroom, where the dirty clothes are," he said.
In a separate Fort Meade neighborhood where mid-level officers have begun moving in, the homes contain a separate living room and a family room with a gas fireplace. For safety the company added carbon monoxide detectors along with the standard smoke alarms.
The company also added a large center island in the kitchen with an overhanging counter top where people can pull up stools. "The island was another request the focus groups wanted," Mulvey said.
"Our philosophy is families first," he explained. "Every decision we make is based on what's best for the family. We really feel that these soldiers are doing something great for our country and we should give them a decent place to live."
Inside the Potomac Place community center, friends Geneva Simmons and Anne Searcy said their new neighborhood has provided them everything they want. The two had just finished working out in the fitness room, while their children watched television and read books in the adjacent playroom.
Asked about her thoughts of the Potomac Place, Simmons was at a loss for words. "I don't know how to describe it," she said. "It's like a dream. It's bigger, obviously it's brand new, and we love it. We wake up every day and feel like we were so lucky to get here."