At the Air Force Student Detachment barracks at Fort Meade, almost every room contains mold. Water drips from leaky pipes into buckets on the floor. Shower water seeps down a hallway wall.
Forty-seven airmen live in these half-century-old barracks, among the worst on the Army installation in western Anne Arundel County.
"I think we've gone beyond the point of saying these barracks are unsuitable," said Maj. Danny S. Chung, commander of a Marine Corps detachment at Fort Meade. "I think many people in the chain of command have realized that."
Yesterday, as Col. Kenneth O. McGreedy, Fort Meade's commander, gave a media tour of barracks, contractors worked briskly to make repairs in the wake of an uproar over deteriorating housing conditions at Fort Bragg, N.C. Fort Meade commanders say it will be years before permanent repairs are made to some barracks and others are replaced."This is a persistent problem with these buildings, and we keep fighting it and jury-rigging it," McGreedy said.
Last month, housing conditions on Army bases came under scrutiny when the father of a soldier at Fort Bragg posted on the video-sharing site YouTube a clip of mold, peeling paint and other problems in his son's barracks. Responding to the ensuing uproar, Army officials ordered an inspection of all barracks worldwide.
Officials say poor housing conditions have persisted for years on installations such as Fort Meade, where some soldiers live in quarters built more than 50 years ago without modern ventilation and plumbing.
The 5,400-acre installation contains 21 barracks that house men and women enlisted in all military branches during training, as well as unmarried soldiers stationed at the post.
Fort Meade's barracks have some of the same problems found at Fort Bragg: mold-covered walls, peeling paint, leaky pipes, and deteriorating shower pans that allow water to seep through floors.
Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County has done work on several soldiers' rooms, including removing mold, but the problems are relatively minor, officials there said.
Fort Meade is about to spend $52 million renovating four barracks over the next several years as part of projects that were planned before the Fort Bragg problems came to light. Two of those barracks, each housing 166 soldiers, are scheduled to reopen by 2010. The other two could reopen by 2012, officials said.
But until those projects are complete, service members will live in conditions that one detachment commander called unacceptable.
"I've been in the Marine Corps close to 20 years now. I don't expect the Hilton," Chung said. But, he said, soldiers should not be forced to live in barracks that are poorly ventilated and contaminated with mold.
During inspections this month, Fort Meade officials identified 50 to 60 problems, ranging from leaks to windows that would not open, said Tom White, the post housing officer.
Some of the problems were at the Air Force Student Detachment barracks, where airmen live for several months at a time while training at the Defense Information School.
The T-shaped building was built in the 1950s as open-bay barracks for cavalry units. The ventilation system that was installed in the 1970s is outdated, McGreedy said.
"They were built for a different time and a different purpose," McGreedy said.
During inspections this month, almost every room was found to contain mold. Three rooms had so much mold on the walls that they were deemed uninhabitable, McGreedy said.
In recent days, contractors have sprayed the mold with a biocide and repainted the walls. Plumbing is also being replaced.
But many underlying problems - such as the lack of a modern ventilation system - are too large to fix without a major renovation. The problem, McGreedy said, is service members would have nowhere to live if the building were closed for repairs. Officials are trying to figure out how to make the repairs without displacing service members for long periods, he said.
He pointed out that the building will likely be razed within three years, after the barracks undergoing major renovations reopen.
"We don't want to throw more money [toward piecemail repairs] than we need so we're committing millions and millions of dollars to a temporary solution," he said.