The Washington Times
Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The first of two parts.

The District and its surrounding communities have seen the beginning of dramatic growth at Fort Belvoir and the impending merger of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. This growth, fueled partly by the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) decisions, is creating new pressures on the transportation infrastructure in Bethesda. This is not the whole story, however. Yet another area installation is growing, and its expansion will significantly affect the counties surrounding it. That installation is the Army’s Fort George G. Meade.

At first glance, Fort Meade’s growth might look insignificant. Out of more than 40,000 jobs going to Maryland under the 2005 BRAC process, just about 5,700 direct jobs will land on Fort Meade. However, BRAC is not the only factor causing growth at Fort Meade. Several agencies are relocating or co-locating to the post, and this ultimately will result in nearly 22,000 jobs bringing people to Fort Meade by 2011, according to Robert C. Leib, special assistant for BRAC/education in Anne Arundel County.

“We don’t just look at BRAC. We call it ‘growth at Fort Meade, ” Mr. Leib explained. “When we started this three years ago, we formed a regional group. It was Howard County, Anne Arundel County and the City of Laurel.” This ‘small group quickly realized the event was going to be more far-reaching than initially expected. The group was expanded. “We have eight counties and two cities in our growth-management committee,” he said.

Montgomery, Prince George’s, Talbot, and Queen Anne’s counties and Baltimore City are among those that joined the expanded planning effort.

“BRAC for Maryland represents the largest single job growth since the end of World War II,” Mr. Leib said. “However, if you look at the bigger scheme of things over a longer period of time, it only represents maybe 15 percent of the state’s overall growth.”

The BRAC growth on Fort Meade includes the Defense Information Systems Agency, Defense Media Activity and the Defense Adjudication Activity. The relocation of these agencies will bring 5,700 direct jobs to the post. Additionally, the National Security Agency is expanding its presence on Fort Meade by at least 4,000 jobs, Mr. Leib said. Additionally, the Defense Information School will be training approximately 300 more students per year and is going to build a new wing to accommodate the increase.

“And then you have just things going on at Fort Meade,” Mr. Leib said, explaining that the Army’s mission on the post is also growing and improving.

Mary Doyle, Fort Meade’s chief of media relations and BRAC specialist, said the Army’s projects include expanding facilities for such organizations as the 902nd Military Intelligence Group. “The 902nd MI Group is constructing a new headquarters building. The installation is in the process of privatizing our water, wastewater and gas [and] electricity services; improving and renovating aging barracks buildings; improving information infrastructure; and we are providing services to a more-than-200-member Warrior in Transition Unit.”

According to Ms. Doyle, only about 12 percent of the BRAC jobs will be filled by uniformed military personnel. However, the post is working to improve the standard of living for both the military families residing on base and/or using base services and the civilian employees who are allowed to lease housing on post.

“By 2012,” she said, “we will come to the end of our initial development period with our housing partner, Picerne Military Housing. At this point, we will have 700 newly constructed homes and more than 1,000 renovated homes.” With a 10-year plan that began in 2002, the fort is planning to have all family housing be either newly built or newly renovated by 2012.

With the BRAC growth and expansion of other agencies, millions of square feet of buildings are being constructed on the post. Some are right on top of part of the old golf course, and Ms. Doyle said the post already is working on a replacement.

“We recently revealed an updated version of design plans for a 36-hole golf course and clubhouse that will be located in the southern section of the installation along Highway 32,” she said. “We are also working to prepare preconstruction environmental and contracting requirements so that work can begin without delay once funding for the construction is identified.”

While golf is an important recreational component to life on Fort Meade, families in the area (or moving to the area) will be enrolling their children in the local school systems. The Anne Arundel County Public School System is expecting to take the bulk of these new students, and Fort Meade has been working with the county and the regional planning group to ensure that the quality of education remains high.

“Currently, AACPS is building a new Pershing Hill Elementary School with a capacity of 730, which will replace two aging elementary schools,” Ms. Doyle said. “The new school will accommodate primarily children of military service members.”

Speaking only for Anne Arundel County, Mr. Leib expanded on the outlook for school growth. “When I started in 1995, we had 75,000 students,” he said. “There are now 74,000. We also have an excess capacity in our schools. There’s around 8,000 empty seats.”

Mr. Leib is confident AACPS will be able to absorb the influx of new students.

“We believe our current capacity is adequate to handle that in the near future,” he said. “In the seven- [to] 10-year point, you may see some new schools being built. But we already have the land for that as well.”

• Nathanael T. Miller is a writer living in Prince George’s County.

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