Military barracks don’t have the reputation of being luxury accommodations, but developer John Picerne was still shocked when he took his first tour of military housing 11 years ago. He recalled holes in the wall, mold on the ceiling, and rooms so cramped that tables and bureaus were stacked on top of each other.
“It was a sad learning experience as I realized how poorly we were treating our military families,” said Picerne, 50, chief executive of Corvias Group in East Greenwich, R.I., which has a division called Picerne Military Housing.
That tour was the precursor to Picerne’s first project for the Defense Department, renovating and managing some 3,000 housing units at Fort Meade, Md. Since then, his company has modernized 24,000 other military homes through similar projects at Fort Bragg, N.C., Fort Polk, La., and others.
How did Picerne Military Housing get started?
It was an offshoot of a real estate company started by my family. I figured the Department of Defense isn’t going out of business anytime soon, and wanted a more recession resistant venture.
How did 9/11 affect you and your business?
In that first year that we won the bid for Fort Meade, 9/11 happened, and my worldview changed dramatically. We were now providing service and taking care of military members who were preparing for war. What seemed like a good business decision suddenly become less about career and more of a vocation for me.
What’s the main difference between maintaining military versus residential properties?
The primary differentiator is the mass and sheer size of each installation. And while the homes are similar, we try to customize them for our customers. When upgrading Fort Bragg, for example, home of the 82d Airborne Division, we wanted to make sure the paratroopers had enough closet space to hang their gear and parachutes, so there is more dedicated storage space.
What is the governmental bidding process is like?
It’s an eight-hour, full-blown oral and visual production to a panel of judges. The proposal covers the number of new homes and renovations; what emergency services and general maintenance will look like, from fixing plumbing and electrical to how we would help families move in and out – like an apartment complex manager, but on a larger scale.
Have you ever been in the military?
No, I have not. When I was little, every time I did something bad, my father threatened to send me to the Army. In my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d be as entrenched in the military as much as I am today.