Proposed Fort Ord hostel has green ambitions for a long-abandoned property.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
The property has an eerie feel. But the paint-chipped buildings, shattered windows and sun-parched shrubs belie a vision for new life in Fort Ord. The plan is to turn three asbestos-ridden structures and the surrounding four-plus acres into a sustainable 120-bed hostel: the Hostelling International Monterey-Fort Ord.
It’s the brainchild of the Central California Council of Hostelling International-American Youth Hostels (CCC/AYH), whose members have sought a way to expand HI Monterey since the mid-’90s. When Fort Ord was decommissioned in 1992, Peter Kampas, president of the CCC/AYH, saw untapped potential. “Other than the university, not that much has been done [at Fort Ord],” he says. “Some people [thought] there’s nothing out there, but I [thought] the area would be developed.”
He was right. Plans are underway for a shopping center at the entrance to the former base; Monterey College of Law continues to renovate its new campus down the street from the future hostel.
“Our plan is to go green and be pretty hardcore about it,” says Aaron Ely, manager of the Monterey Hostel and project manager for the Fort Ord hostel. Graywater and rain catchment systems, compost piles, native plant landscaping, solar panels, wind turbines, organic gardens, an outdoor amphitheater, public community spaces and the latest in green technology are budgeted in the master plan. “And, if we find the money, our wish list includes an electric vehicle charger, a bicycle repair center for traveling cyclists,” Ely says, “and we’d like to put in a green roof that travelers can camp on.”
According to the CCC/AYH application to use the federally owned property, the hostel, at $15 to $20 per night, would provide affordable access to the California coast. Currently, the Monterey Hostel turns down 20-30 individuals a day during peak season and hosts 10,000 visitors annually; the Fort Ord hostel could see as many as 20,000 to 30,000 travelers each year. Ely says hostel staff also send away a school or community group on a daily basis. The ample grounds would change that. “They are so dissapointed,” he says. “There are no inexpensive options for them locally.”
Staff and volunteers have already poured new sidewalks and installed new floors. But there have been six break-ins in the last year, with burglars stealing much-needed materials and smashing windows. Acquiring an occupancy permit, allowing Ely and his crew to move in, means meeting building requirements set out by the city of Seaside.
The hope is to have that permit soon, so the real work can begin. From there, it should be 18 months until the first building can house guests. It’ll be another five years for the final building to be occupant-ready, assuming funding needs are met.
“It’s overwhelming,” Ely says. “But then I step back and remind myself – eat the elephant one bite at a time.”