HomeNewsFinal parts of study examining Fort Gordon’s growth and impact are released

Final parts of study examining Fort Gordon’s growth and impact are released

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The final three chapters of the study on how Fort Gordon is growing, and the impact on seven surrounding counties, are available.

The CSRA Regional Commission, working with Canada-based Stantec, Inc. launched a project to gauge the population growth connected with Fort Gordon and its impact on the Augusta-Aiken area. It focused on the challenges associated with growth at the post in recent years and looked at anticipated growth in the future.

The Fort Gordon Regional Management Plan consists of nine chapters. Released last year were chapters covering demographics and population projections, transportation, police and fire protection, economic and workforce development, education and health care.

The final three chapters looking at housing, childcare and public utilities and infrastructure were released during a virtual meeting June 27. Seven counties are included in the study; Augusta-Richmond, Columbia, Burke, Lincoln and McDuffie counties in Georgia; Aiken and Edgefield counties in South Carolina.

Project Manager Costa Pappis with the Central Savannah River Area Regional Commission opened the meeting saying growth at Fort Gordon is expected to bring an additional 6,370 new residents over the next couple of years.

“This includes 894 service members, over 2,200 family members, and about 3,000 related support jobs and indirect growth through 2024,” he said. “So, this is a lot of growth that we’ve been seeing that’s going to continue over the next few years. All of this growth presents both opportunities and challenges. The opportunities are primarily related to new economic activity and jobs, particularly in areas that are tied to Ford Gordon’s mission, such as cyber. The challenges are to ensure that our infrastructure and public services can keep up with the growth, otherwise our quality of life will suffer.”

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Pappis turned the meeting over to Ray Greer with Stantec to walk the roughly two dozen people attending the virtual meeting through the final three chapters, beginning with the report on current housing.

Greer said 70% of the more than 263,000 homes within the seven-county study area are single family homes. Columbia and Aiken counties have the highest percentage of owner-occupied versus rental properties. Richmond County has the smallest difference with 44.5% owner-occupied and 43.3% rental properties.

“One of the things that stands out in this data right up front is there’s not a tremendous amount of multifamily throughout the study area,” said Greer. “So, it is something that has been identified because it does accomplish a certain need on value as far as rent and income level. And so, there is a missing component to some of the housing that are going on. Something else that’s very interesting is the medium price of the housing and the study, or it’s actually lower than the national average.”

The study looked at population growth and housing needs between 2021 and 2025, then projected to 2030.

Based on current estimates, the seven-county area will need an additional 14,520 housing units by 2025. Another 11,852 will be needed by 2030.

The report said some of the growth is directly attributed to military growth:

“Since 2012, Fort Gordon has added approximately 11,000 military personnel, civilians and contractors with an average household size of 2.54, approximately 4,330 housing units in the Study Area are occupied by personnel that have become employed at the Installation since 2012. By 2024, the number of military jobs is expected to increase by 894; after accounting for dependents, the total military population is expected to increase by 3,183 by 2024. Assuming a constant average household size of 2.54, it can be expected that by 2024 approximately 1,253 of the new housing units developed for the entire population will be required to accommodate new military personnel.”

Fort Gordon added about 9,000 service members between 2010 and 2019. Adding in family members, civilian contractors and associated support personnel brought the total population increase to more than 47,000 residents. Columbia County saw the highest number of new residents, followed by Augusta-Richmond County and Aiken County.

Moving next to the childcare analysis, Greer said they study focused on needs for children aged six and younger.

“Typically, military service members make up a large component of younger population, they do have younger kids. So, with the addition of the increased population what we see for Fort Gordon to grow in the next several years, it will actually add 773 kids to the childcare domain,” he said.

He said one thing unique to military installations like Fort Gordon is the need to have 24-hour childcare options available. Price is also a factor. The study found that childcare in the seven-county area averages 10% of the average family income. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says childcare is affordable if it does not exceed 7%.

“So, it also compounds with other items that we found such as we talked about the ability to actually have 24-hour daycare is very, very limited. And I know that some of the interviews that the team member had done, he had mentioned that there are several facilities that actually are taking the kids home with them or providing some at home, just to be able to address some of the demand that was there because they don’t have a 24-hour daycare,” Greer said.

The report also found other challenges include finding, and retaining, qualified employees with childcare experience.

The study broke down strategies in three time periods, Near Term which are within one-to-three years, Mid Term defined as between four and five years and Long Term which extends beyond five years:

Near-term strategies should focus on communications and protecting current capacity related to COVID-19; communicate upcoming growth so local providers can consider growth plans; provide support (technical and financial) to keep providers viable during COVID-19; develop an education plan to help families identify quality measures and to help providers move up the quality scale; encourage entry into the field via scholarships and other training support; communicate on-base standards and policies so off-base centers and collaborate and communicate affordability options to families.

Mid-term activities should focus on filling gaps in local capacity and constraints to growth and/or sustainability; Incentivize expansions of operating hours and on-post capacity; Explore methods to improve career conditions for childcare workers (pay and benefits) and Work with partners to identify financial incentives to encourage enrollment in medical technology fields (including pharmacy technology).

Long-term activities should focus on building a strong business community and affordable provision of care; Technical and business support for local providers and Increase thresholds for financial assistance to families.

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The report identified potential partners that can assist with the recommendations including the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students, which conducts research on childcare in Georgia and can help inform policy decision, and CSRA Kids (www.csrakids.com), an online resource and community guide for child and family activities.

Potential funding sources include The Community Foundation for the CSRA and Georgia’s Department o Early Care and Learning (DECAL), which licenses and monitors childcare.

The final chapter looks at the current state of infrastructure and public utilities in the seven-county study area and how they will be impacted by the projected growth. The chapter covers water, wastewater, solid waste collection and treatment, electric distribution systems and natural gas.

“From an overall standpoint, potable water and sanitary sewer are actually very well covered. One of the things very critical as you plan for growth is you got to plan for the growth not only associated with schools and housing, but you also have to have the infrastructure there to support it,” Greer said. “There has been a lot of planning going on there, a lot of permits that’s either been done or is being planned for both potable water and sanitary sewer, which puts the facilities in good shape to address future demand, not only demand of the area itself, but also the growth and inside of Fort Gordon.”

Augusta-Richmond County and Columbia County both have adequate facilities to provide water service and handle wastewater. Even with a projected growth through 2030 of 5.12% and 22.43% respectively, the report finds both counties have systems that will be able to handle the increased demand. However, both counties are advised to monitor growth in more rural areas should the need for expansion arise.

The other five counties will experience smaller growth, or a slight decline in population, so existing facilities are expected to be adequate.

Focusing on solid waste, the report looked specifically at waste generated by construction projects and municipal solid waste. The study determined that the mixture of county-run landfills and transfer stations are adequate to support population growth through 2030.

Next up in the final chapter is the analysis of electricity and natural gas service.

Greer noted the wide range of providers and types of electric generation in the seven-county region.

“Our electric power facilities currently got everything from solar, to nuclear, and even a biomass plant hydroelectric. So typically, this is a large gamut inside this area, and it’s something that we don’t see every day, for sure,” he said, adding, “It’s interesting to see the ability to have the nuclear power plant and some of the ranking on a couple of other reactors on the nuclear power plant facility, but it’s amazing to see what it does to the actual distribution and how much energy to be created through there. So, from an electric distribution standpoint, for the seven-county area, that area’s well taken care.”

The final review looked at natural gas. There are no natural gas production facilities in Georgia or South Carolina within the seven-county study area. However, the interstate natural gas pipeline runs through the region.

“So, natural gas is available through this area, as always, can be continued to be expanded inside this area. And majority of the cities throughout the southeast operate off of this natural gas line. So, it is critical service provider for natural gas throughout this area and throughout the southeast. So, gas is in good shape,” Greer said.

The work on this project began with an advisory group meeting in April 2021. The first three chapters of the study were released during a virtual public meeting on Oct. 19, 2021. The chapters looked at demographics and population projections, transportation and police and fire protection. The second three chapters, covering economic and workforce development, education and health care were released on Dec. 15, 2021.

With all chapters released and posted on the website, along with a chapter containing all the recommendations, the team encourages the public to read the information and provide comments and suggestions.

The reports are available for review on the project website: https://www.fortgordongmp.com/ along with recordings of the virtual public meetings.

Comments can be submitted through the project public input form or by email to [email protected]

Comments will be taken through July 14.

Dana Lynn McIntyre is a general assignment reporter for The Augusta Press. Reach her at [email protected] 

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