By T. Anthony Bell, Fort Lee Public Affairs

FORT LEE, Va. – An Army institution that has strived to be a home away from home for military members and their families will begin a new era at Fort Lee beginning Oct. 1.

That is the date the 1,000-room Fort Lee Lodge, one of the Army’s largest, will begin operations as a private entity under the Privatization of Army Lodging program. The conversion also includes the eight additional lodging buildings at Fort Lee.

The installation Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Directorate is the current operator of the lodge. It will relinquish control of the facilities to IHG, an international hotelier that is currently operating facilities throughout the continental U.S.

Under PAL, the contractor operates under the terms of a lease, said Rhonda Hayes, director, Capital Ventures, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (Installations, Housing and Partnership). DASA (IH&P) is charged with program oversight.

“PAL has a number of benefits for the Army,” she said. “Primarily, PAL keeps the product (lodging) sustained over the 50-year term of the lease. We don’t have to rely on appropriated funds to re-capitalize the buildings.”

According to the IHG website, 80-percent of the lodging facilities covered by the contract were in need of renovation at a cost of more than $1 billion. Under the terms of the lease, said Hayes, a reinvestment account sets money aside for renovations. Since the program’s inception, the privatization partnership has spent millions on the renovation of older facilities all across the country.

The Fort Lee Lodge, completed in December 2012, and its companion facilities, along with those located at Fort Benning, Ga., are the last two operations in the continental U.S. slated for privatization under PAL.

Cynthia Moinette, general manager, Fort Lee Lodging, said 194 people are currently employed by the lodges. Fifty-one are scheduled to retire under the privatization plan, and 119 were hired by the new operator. Many of the remaining employees are looking for work elsewhere.

Most of those slated for retirement were on hand for a ceremony honoring their service Monday at the Fort Lee Lodge. Col. Paul K. Brooks, commander, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Lee, and Melissa S. Magowan, deputy to the commander, presented certificates of service to employees and offered their thanks for supporting the lodging mission here.

“You’re all awesome,” said Brooks during one portion of his speech prior to the presentations.

The employees, many of whom have worked at the lodges since the 1980s, seemed to be in high spirits after the presentations. They laughed, joked and reminisced while enjoying refreshments and snacks. Some even danced.

Margaret Hinton, who will be closing the curtain on a 39-year career at the facilities, said she wanted to work another two years but harbored no disappointment she was not offered a position with the new company. Her early retirement presents more opportunities to travel, she said.

“It’s a blessing,” said Hinton, whose husband Ronald also is a lodge employee. “The kids are grown; me and my husband are both retiring, and instead of visiting Vegas once a year, we can go twice.”

Wanda Taylor, a 32-year Army Lodging employee, said many of her co-workers have gone about their duties with a high level of camaraderie.

“Army Lodging really took care of people,” she said. “If it hadn’t, they wouldn’t have stayed 30-40 years.”

Since its inception in 2009, PAL has overseen the privatization of lodging facilities at more than 40 installations across the continental U.S. Many have been renovated and rebranded as Holiday Inn Express.

Additionally, the privatization partnership has constructed several new facilities under the name Candlewood Suites.

More than 4,500 employees at Army installations in the continental U.S. have been affected by the Army’s decision to transition management of its lodging facilities to civilian contractors.

The PAL program expires in 44 years.