Fort Ord Blight Removal Picks Up

Apr 3, 2014

An excavator demolishes an abandoned building on the CSUMB campus.
Credit Doug McKnight
A blighted abandoned building on the CSUMB campus.
Credit Doug McKnight

In the twenty years since the Army shut down Fort Ord there’s been progress on repurposing the land – a new University, a National Monument, new housing and shopping.  But even with all the change more than one thousand abandoned buildings still remain standing -- making parts of the former base look like a ghost town.   Now efforts to clean up the remaining blight may finally be picking up.

Katie Timmerman watches as the huge claw of a giant excavator shatters three stories of poured concrete like a giant graham cracker and says “So pretty soon, I’d say another week, it will be completely on the ground”

Timmerman is the Senior Project Manager at CSU Monterey Bay, KAZU’s parent institution. She oversees the demolition of buildings on campus that sits on the former Fort Ord.  Right now there are more than 60 that need to be knocked down. Most are large reinforced concrete buildings. “Those are a bigger ticket item,” said Timmerman. “It is not cost effective to do one at a time, so we want to be able to do bigger groups of them.”

The building coming down right now is one in a large cluster that is not far from Highway One. “We are kind of at that breaking point,” said Timmerman. “Let’s try and do it because if we wait five more years, you know, our cost can go up 10-15 percent. And it keeps compounding as time goes on.”

It will cost $30 million dollars to tear down all of the blighted buildings on campus. That’s more than a third of the CSUMB’s annual budget.

The University anticipates getting that money from the Chancellor’s office which plans to take out a large loan for infrastructure improvements throughout the CSU system.

But that’s only part of the picture. On the rest of the former army base there are more than 1000 blighted buildings that still need to be demolished, a move dependent on developers.

Jim Musbach has 30 years’ experience as land use consultant and has worked on other base closures. He recently spoke at a conference on Fort Ord development. He said, “It’s taking a long time but the other bases are taking a long time too including bases in much stronger markets than this one. And you know the scale of this base relative to the economy out here is a little bit unusual.”

It’s unusual because Monterey Bay area economy is based on tourism and agriculture. Musbach said, “You don’t have the big commercial users, and things like this, who come down and take down big pieces of property and do redevelopment like you would in say San Francisco and places like that.”

Still development is coming along.  Several housing projects are currently underway and ground was broken on the new Veteran’s Affairs and Department of Defense Outpatient Clinic.

Sitting in his office at the Fort Ord Reuse Authority, Executive Officer Michael Houlemard says as CSUMB increases demolition on its campus, the cost of knocking down buildings could drop for everyone. “There will some cost efficiencies between the two of us where you won’t have to mobilize and demobilize to get the work done,” said Houlemard.  “And because of the scale of the work you don’t have to retrain, re-find workers.”

Houlemard says five years from now you may not recognize the place, “You not only will see the additional commercial, light industrial, educational and housing projects, but you will see nearly all of the building removal and the ghost town blighted effects should be gone.”

Back at the construction site, Katie Timmerman says that demolition and the removal of the ghost town look will not only make the former base safer, it will also have a big psychological effect. Timmerman adds with a laugh, “And I feel it will not feel so creepy.”