Keesler Will Spend $287 Million To Rebuild Its Hurricane Damaged Homes - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Keesler Will Spend $287 Million To Rebuild Its Hurricane Damaged Homes

Before Hurricane Katrina, Keesler Air Force Base had a $1.5 billion economic impact on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Despite the storm, military leaders expect it to remain a vital part of the community for decades to come.

In fact, during a Morning Call speech Tuesday morning to a local chamber group, Keesler's Brig. Gen. Paul Capasso said, "We're here to stay," when he announced that plans were in place to rebuild hurricane damaged housing at Biloxi's Air Force Base.

The hurricane is why Keesler just awarded a $287 million construction contract to Hunt Building Company.

"A lot of hard work went into making this project happen, and it will reap great benefits for our airmen," said Brig. Gen. Paul Capasso, the 81st Training Wing commander at Keesler.

The August 29, 2005 hurricane decimated Keesler housing. More than 1,200 homes around the base sustained so much damage during the storm, they had to be torn down. In late April, Keesler's 81st Mission Support Commander Charles Dunn talked about the need to replace the damaged houses as soon as possible.

"It's very important for us to bring the families back together," Dunn said in that April 28 interview on WLOX News. "We have some military personnel living in dorms right now. They're separated from their families."

Five months later, Keesler took a major step to accomplish that. It hired the Hunt group out of El Paso, Texas and asked it to rebuild housing units around the Biloxi base that Hurricane Katrina destroyed. What Commander Dunn said back in April can be applied to this announcement.

He said, "Those who have been here in the past, they won't recognize this installation when they return. And we're very excited about that."

Three quarters of the hurricane damaged homes linked to the base have already been demolished, "And we're scheduled to be finished with demolition of the remaining homes by the end of October," said Lt. Col. Ray Mottley of the 81st Civil Engineer Squadron.

What the new homes look like, and when they're built hasn't been announced yet. What Keesler's general emphasized was that this contract would be "the largest military housing construction project in Air Force history."

Keesler is actually demolishing more homes than it's rebuilding. According to base leaders, there's a reason for that. An Air Force study done before Katrina determined that Keesler's on-base housing requirement had dropped just a bit. So, 146 fewer homes will be built by the El Paso, Texas based construction company.

According to Col. Mottley, "All Katrina did was accelerate the process."

by Brad Kessie

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