Town Hall addresses issues with housing

Story and photos Brandon O’Connor Assistant Editor

February 28th, 2019 | In Focus, News
 Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, U.S. Military Academy superintendent, and Col. Cecil Marson, West Point garrison commander, host a town hall Feb. 21 to address residents' concerns about housing at West Point.
 A West Point housing resident speaks about his concerns over his home during a town hall meeting Feb. 21.

Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, U.S. Military Academy superintendent, and Col. Cecil Marson, West Point garrison commander, hosted a town hall Feb. 21 to address the ongoing issues with housing at West Point.
The town hall was held to present the findings from a West Point Family Housing inspection  conducted in November through a joint effort between Balfour Beatty Communities, the private contractors that controls housing on post, and the West Point Garrison.
The inspection was spurred following comments made by former West Point residents at the Association of the United States Army conference in October and included inspections of 19 homes with reported issues related to mold, water intrusion and/or drainage issues.
Visits to the 19 homes found small patches of mold in nine of them, potential for water intrusion at 14 and issues with clogged gutters and drains.
“On behalf of the Army and all of the senior leadership, I personally apologize for the housing issues a lot of you have experienced,” Marson said. “I spent the last three months going through housing and I understand it. At the end of the day, if there are any questions about where the buck stops on housing, it is with me. I know I will be judged on my tenure here on West Point on how I fix your housing issues. It is pretty simple for me. I have to figure it out and I have to get it fixed.”
Following the findings of the visits to 19 houses on post, Marson said leadership will be conducting visits to every house on post and inspecting the barracks by March 18. Residents are not required to allow leadership into their homes, but there is a series of six questions they will be asked to answer to enable the collection of data. GEN. Mark A. Milley, Chief of Staff of the Army, visited West Point Feb. 22 and 23 in part to visit houses to gain a better understanding of the issues.
Throughout the process of fixing housing on post, Marson said communication between residents and leadership is, “absolutely essential,” because it is the only way to understand the scope of the problem. Marson added that residents who come forward about their housing issues will face no reprisal from leadership.
“We have been tasked to look at every single home and we’ll do that by the middle of next month. I have already changed my calendar to do that. I had a lot of stuff I was planning to do, but I will be in your home,” Williams said, adding that he will be part of the visits, but not see every house personally. “We are all in this together and we will fix this together. My message to you is we are here, and we are listening. You’ve got to trust us and give us a chance to get after this.”
Along with the issues found in the 19 inspected homes, major concerns raised during the town hall were the brown water issue throughout the West Point community and the failure of the work order system used by BBC. Because of the frequency of the issue, it was suggested to hold a future town hall specifically about brown water and what is being done to rectify the problem.
“I feel like there is a real lack of trust between us and Balfour Beatty and all these different parties,” Maj. Ryan Leach said during the open discussion portion of the town hall. “They have been benefitting immensely and profiting immensely from us. This is their responsibility. These are billion-dollar companies that are truly benefiting off of all of us. I understand and sympathize with you doing the right thing and picking up the pieces after this, but I want to vocalize that there is a real lack of trust in them and these people coming in and fixing things.”
As for the constant issues with work orders, Marson has started a monthly work order review board where he will meet with Balfour Beatty to go over what orders they have received and the work that has been completed. They are also working to develop a new system to submit and track work orders.
“The work order system, it doesn’t work. It is not effective,” Marson said. “The work order system is antiquated. It has to be fixed and improved and that is something I am going to work with the partner to get fixed. That is a recommendation I have sent up higher saying we have to relook at the work order system.”
As they work to address the issue at West Point and throughout the Army, all contractor performance incentives given to Balfour Beatty have been suspended to enable the system to be reworked and the metrics changed.