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A year later: Housing privatization considered successful at Randolph

By Thomas Warner | Staff writer | Sept. 30, 2008

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — A year after Pinnacle Corporation took over management of Randolph Air Force Base housing, those in charge of carrying out the privatization mission are pleased with the transition. 

Housing here is considered, by most accounts, well-managed and the staff tasked with carrying out the mission is eager to look ahead at continuing accountability. 

"We currently have 397 units on base; but we will be tearing down 80, near the Airmen Heritage Park, over the next year," said Bonnie Griffith, executive homes manager. "Those homes (targeted for demolition) are not part of the historical collection of homes we have here." 

The feeling among many residents is that Pinnacle moves quickly to address issues raised by residents. Now that a "learning curve" period had passed, the privatization system is a more understood way to do business. 

Since the privatization, Pinnacle has had numerous manpower changes. The current team, headed by Griffith and community director Candy Lotridge, has been working together only a few months but has increased productivity on several fronts. 

"The biggest downside was that maintenance people could not keep up with the work orders and the people were not trained to do the work that's required when you are dealing with historic dwellings," Bette McAndrew, former Randolph Housing manager who works in the same capacity now, only with 12th MSG and Pinnacle interaction. "Before privatization, there were 27 to 29 maintenance people on staff here. With Pinnacle, there have been as few as five or six and they were not able to keep up." 

Although it initially felt like Pinnacle was having a hard time getting up to speed with the challenges of maintaining older homes, Jennifer Haight, a prior-enlisted Air Force spouse and self-described "stay at home mom" who lives on-base with her husband, said their quality of work and service have improved dramatically in a short time.

Ms. Haight said lingering pest control issues and structural maintenance problems were common after the takeover but have been addressed in a timely manner for about six months. 

"We stay on top of what's presented to us," said Victor Benavides, Pinnacle maintenance director. "Anything dealing with electrical work, plumbing, heating or air conditioning is something we are going to look into almost immediately. The people who live in those homes deserve that." 

Outside maintenance, including all yard work and groundskeeping, is handled by Gratr - a San Antonio company subcontracted by Pinnacle. Residents are only responsible for maintaining the yard area inside their wooden fences, plus any gardens or flower beds. 

Randolph Air Force Base was one of several installations that entered into a 50-year contractual arrangement with Pinnacle. 

"The military construction money would simply not have been there if we hadn't privatized and this is going to allow for more extensive renovations to be done to these historic homes here and on other bases," Ms. McAndrew said. 

Bases in Washington State, Oklahoma, Texas, North Carolina and several installations also entered into similar agreements with Pinnacle during the past two years. 

"I believe the historic homes here are beautiful, and have character you can't find in a modern-day built home," said Elizabeth Kirkpatrick, Air Education Training Command Phase II investment manager, who oversees housing portfolios at Randolph and Goodfellow air force bases here in Texas, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., and three other installations with the AETC footprint. She said it isn't a tough sell to convince military families to live on base. 

"Living on base allows families to live next to other military families who understand their unique challenges, and find support," Ms. Kirkpatrick said. "Randolph has one of the best elementary schools in the area. With the gate, the support network, easy access to quality shopping facilities and the short commute to work, it just makes sense to live on base." 

Randolph cleared several housing structures and built Airmen's Heritage Park in 2007 and the buildings to be razed next year date back, Ms. Griffith said, to the 1970s. 

The "Landings at Randolph," the name given to housing units here, is nearly full of military families, with just an 82 percent occupancy rate as recently as June. 

"As long as we stay at or over a 95 percent occupancy rate, we don't really need to publicize the units," said Ms. Griffith, who noted that 242 of Randolph's existing dwellings are receiving extensive kitchen upgrades that should be completed by the end of 2010. 

Randolph's available housing is meant to supplement what is available off-base, Ms. Griffith said, describing the market here on the western edge of San Antonio as being as good, or better, than what is available in areas surrounding the city. 

Seattle-based Pinnacle has many real estate holdings, including 22,000 military housing units on at least six bases around the country. The Hunt Corporation, founded in Indianapolis and now based in Arizona, is involved with Pinnacle on several ventures around the country including ongoing work here at Randolph.