It was a big year for the veterans home. In February, the Bradley County Veterans Affairs Office was notified that construction on the home would likely begin in 2015.
Increased cost of construction to the home, due to design changes mandated by new federal regulations, necessitated that the local veterans home council reapply for state funding. Costs were estimated in the low $30 million range.
“It’s a perfect storm, or ideal scenario, to reapply now because at the longest, it might be two or three years before we see funds available,” said project manager Clinton R. Camp of Parsons Brinkerhoff in Nashville in a Feb. 1 meeting in Cleveland.
“We can only build one home at a time and we have an 18-24 month operational window after that project comes on line before we can deliver another project.”
Site testing and a Draft Environmental Assessment had been completed on the proposed site.
According to a previously published report in the Cleveland Daily Banner, “The Chattanooga office of Thompson Engineering prepared the Draft Environmental Assessment and found the site suitable for the project.”
The Lewis group was chosen to design the proposed veterans home.
Hopes that things would move forward with the home in Cleveland were raised when a facility in Clarksville broke ground. Clarksville is ahead of the Cleveland/Bradley County home in funding on the state list.
Bradley County Veterans Affairs Services Director Larry McDaris said, “The groundbreaking in Montgomery County was certainly good news for us. We are very happy for Montgomery County. We’re celebrating right along with them, because they’ve got to get their construction done and get that out of the way before we can start. This is a happy day both here and in Clarksville.”
Those hopes that rose in May took a slight dip in November when it was announced that the State of Tennessee Real Estate Asset Management division expressed four concerns over the proposed site. Concerns about the property led STREAM to recommend an alternative site be considered. Concerns include the narrow shape of the site, its slope, the soil and fill that exist on-site, the location’s accessibility and its visibility from the road.
“None of them is insurmountable by itself, but when we put them together, they magnify each other,” said STREAM’s Peter Heimbach during a session of the Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home Council held at the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce.
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said the STREAM recommendation was “a slap in the face to people who have worked so hard.” He said the news served as a sour end to his Veterans Day.
“Everyone has been to that site for the past two years, and nothing has been said about it not being acceptable,” Rowland said. “Most of those things identified by STREAM, I think, are nitpicky.”
Local land donor Steve Williams said he had the equipment to fix any fill or grade issues on the site.
“This property and this assessment of it has been devastating to all of us, and I include myself because I want that home in Cleveland and Bradley County just as much as you do,” said Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder.
Grinder assured local supporters the STREAM report did not mean the project was doomed.
Addressing issues and widening the site were seen as solutions to keeping the proposed veterans home on the donated land.
The Cleveland Bradley County State Veterans Home in 2013 received a $50,000 grant from the Healthy Community Initiative funding awarded by the Bradley County Commission.
The veterans home request may go toward site testing if additional property is needed. Otherwise, it will go toward additional site preparation. The committee has requested that those applying for the grant come back to the committee if the money needs to be used in another way.
Specific designs of the facility are not complete so an exact square footage of the facility was not available in 2013.
Although the Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home Council is certain every issue can be addressed, an official follow-up as to whether the state veterans affairs office will approve the site had not been received by December.
The council made plans to meet with the commissioner of the Department of General Services, of which STREAM is a part, in order to outline how each concern can be addressed. That meeting took place Friday in Nashville.