The Navy is considering a plan to privatize its military housing that could move some personnel out of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station and Indian Head Naval Surface Warfare Center into surrounding communities.
Navy officials from the mid-Atlantic region, which oversees Pax River and Indian Head, said the plan has emerged at a time when some base housing is in need of repair and the federal government is pushing for outside contractors to handle more housing functions because they can move more quickly in seeking funds.
"If we, the Navy -- the Mid-Atlantic region -- can partner with a private developer and he can leverage those dollars to do things that we can't, it's to everybody's benefit," said Gail Fowler, regional housing director for the Navy's Mid-Atlantic region, which includes Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District.
Preliminary project discussions at Pax River have included demolishing some base housing and putting those units on private land that the developer would secure, Fowler said.
"It's all under development," said Fowler, who is based in Norfolk, Va. "It requires financial analysis . . . to say what's best and how those things will play out in the long term."
But already local officials are looking ahead. At its Feb. 12 meeting, when the St. Mary's County Board of Education approved a redistricting plan that shifted more than 1,400 students to alleviate crowding, board President Steven Kracinovich said that Pax River officials had recently informed the school board about the Navy's housing privatization plan.
Kracinovich said in an interview that the plan probably would not affect school population, as students living on base at Pax River already attend St. Mary's County schools. But he said it could affect school attendance boundaries -- the lines that the board recently approved after a painstaking process dating back several years.
"If [the housing] jumps elementary school lines or middle school lines, there may be something that we have to deal with in the future," Kracinovich said.
But the school board likely would have advance notice about how the plan would take shape, and there would be plenty of time to plan, he added.
"We'd have a real good idea of where [the housing] would be, and exactly how many students," Kracinovich said. "We should have enough time to adjust, but the public needs to know that we would need to adjust."
There are about 786 housing units at Pax River and 162 at Indian Head, which is in Charles County. Most of the units were built from the 1940s through the 1960s. Only one complex, Pax River's Glenn Forest, was built as recently as 1985, officials said.
Capt. Jeanne McDonnell, executive officer for Naval support activity, which assists families on myriad issues including housing, said the privatization can help the crucial need for Navy personnel and their families to live in up-to-date units, noting that peace of mind from a secure home translates into a strong fleet.
"Our job is to support our sailors and their families, and make sure that the sailor deployed on front lines doesn't have to worry about where is my family living, do they have the basic necessities?" McDonnell said.
Navy officials said that they are looking to award a contract in 2004 and that the process would not go forward without town meetings to solicit feedback.