Fort Belvoir and Michaels Management opened 11 new four-bedroom, accessible homes in Woodlawn Village last month.

Photo by Paul Lara, Inside NoVa

In 2011, The Villages at Belvoir, the privately-owned housing on Fort Belvoir, garnered national acclaim for a construction project, with two concept homes designed to radically change the living spaces for the increasing numbers of wounded warriors returning home from combat.

Last month, the company celebrated completion of another group of accessible homes, meeting its goal of having 5% of the homes on the installation being accessible or adaptable. At a ceremony at Woodlawn Village, near U.S. 1 and Jeff Todd Way, Dayra Conde, regional vice president for Michaels Management, which operates the housing, pointed to 11 new four-bedroom accessible homes as well as the foundations completed for 13 additional home sites.

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New accessible  four-bedroom homes in Fort Belvoir's Woodlawn Village are designed with roll-in showers and other amenities to improve life for wounded warriors. Photo courtesy of The Villages at Belvoir.

Those homes, plus construction underway at Dogue Creek Village, will not only exceed the 5% goal but they also achieved LEED Silver certifications and are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Conde said. “[They] also created a community that lifts lives, which is a distinction that Michaels certainly lives by.”

The 11 new homes will ease a growing waitlist during the surge season of Permanent Change of Station, when soldiers and their families transfer to new units. Many such moves occur during the summer.

John Zurlo, senior asset manager with Michaels, said the two project homes built over a decade ago set a new standard for accessible housing in military communities, but they came with a catch: As prototypes, they were not economically scalable.

“In 2015, the team began another research project with the help of renowned architecture firm Michael Graves Architecture and Design. We met with industry experts, interviewed families, visited accessible housing across the country, this time, with the purpose of improving upon the prototype design, and finding a way to build these great homes en masse,” Zurlo said. “With feedback from residents of the project homes, I believe we’ve improved upon both functionality and quality in the new accessible homes here in Woodlawn Village.”

Zurlo said the new homes advanced design in ways large and small to make family life more enjoyable, while reducing costs from the project homes by 40%. For example, open floor plans and common areas allow parents, while cooking dinner, to keep an eye on their children playing in the backyard.

“While laying out an open living space for families to spend time together, we also separated bedrooms into quieter regions of the house, providing reprieve for people with sensory conditions or PTSD,” Zurlo added.

And, he said, heating and air-conditioning systems were designed to serve the bedrooms and shared spaces separately to help residents who struggle with regulating body heat.

“We learned that more often than not, children with accessibility needs lived in these homes. So ensuring the shared bathrooms had both a roll-in shower and separate tub was crucial. We discovered that storage is often needed for bulk food or medicines or specialized vehicles, so we increased the size of the garages to provide more flexibility,” Zurlo said.

“Sidelights at the front door allow residents and wheelchairs to see visitors approaching. Tall baseboards protect walls from scuffing by wheelchair foot guards, and a built-in table in the laundry room makes doing household chores just a little bit easier.”

By Paul Lara

Inside NoVa