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.”
Construction on the home at 250 Arrowood Drive is scheduled to begin in August and open in the first quarter of 2015. Cleveland and Bradley County officials are eying a groundbreaking later that same year.
State Rep. Kevin Brooks, who represents the 24th District which contains the site of the home in South Cleveland said, “As we take time to honor those men and women who have given their all for our freedom and our nation on this Memorial Day holiday, it is thrilling to know that we are one step closer to honoring those men and women who have served our country and are still with us."
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder attended the May 17 groundbreaking ceremony in Clarksville. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee House Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan, Montgomery County Mayor Carolyn Bowers, Tennessee State Veterans Homes Director Ed Harries and TSVH Board Chairwoman Mary Ross joined the governor and commissioner.
“We are incredibly thankful for the service and sacrifice by these men and women, and we’re excited to break ground on this facility that will serve the veteran community in Clarksville and Montgomery County,” Haslam said. “Tennessee is raising the bar on long-term health care for veterans at the three existing Tennessee State Veterans Homes, and we look forward to serving even more of the veteran population who has given so much of themselves.”
County VA Services Officers Joe Davis, who is also a member of the Tennessee State Veterans Homes Board; Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home Committee co-Chair Cid Heidel, and SETVH Treasurer Aubrie Lackie attended.
The application to build the home in Montgomery County began in 2004, about three years before Bradley County. Since then, the State of Tennessee Real Estate Asset Management Division with the Tennessee Department of General Services, the Tennessee State Veterans Homes Board and Montgomery County government officials considered and evaluated 13 different sites before the Arrowood Drive property was purchased for approximately $475,000. Federal and state agencies approved the site purchased by the county which donated the property to the state. The state accepted and closed on the property April 19.
Brooks said the timeline set by the State Veteran's Home Board and the administration is rather straightforward: the Montgomery County project was to be done first, then the Bradley County home.
"We watched with great enthusiasm as our capitol colleagues in Montgomery County broke ground on their new Veteran's Home," Brooks said. "We know that as has been discussed in Nashville, the beginning of the Montgomery County project brings us closer to the beginning of our Bradley County project."
Montgomery County and city of Clarksville each contributed $750,000 to the project. The State Home Construction Grant Program with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs contributed $14.6 million. The state contributed $10.8 million, including $4.3 million in Haslam’s fiscal year 2013-14 Budget.
“Although the Tennessee State Veterans Homes are self-sufficient after admissions begin, it takes a large amount of partnership, collaboration and contributions from federal, state and local agencies to construct new state veterans homes,” Grinder said during the groundbreaking ceremony. “This groundbreaking milestone is exciting because this will give Montgomery County’s veterans a high quality-of-life option when around the clock health care is needed.”
The Bradley County home followed a similar procedural timeline. However, the state can build only one home at a time, which delayed the local project. In addition, design changes and inflation increased the cost from the low $20 million range to the low $30 million range.
Based on the cost factor and timing, the state opted to resubmit its application to reduce the local and state financial burden.
“We are told by the state it will work out fine,” McDaris said.
The federal government and local supporters share the cost of construction on a 65/35 percent basis. The federal share, based on the 2007 application, was $13.037 million. The city of Cleveland and Bradley County each committed $2.2 million and an anonymous donor pledged $3 million to cover the local share. The new price tag increases the local share to about $10 million. Under the new scenario, the cost share would be closer to 50/50 had the state accepted VA construction funds based on the 2013 allocation list published by the VA.
“It was good to resubmit the application now rather than wait which probably would have delayed the application,” McDaris said.
The design and number of beds changed after 2007. The current design is a 108-bed facility on approximately 30 acres at 1940 Westland Dr. The future home would be approximately 98,000 square feet, offering intermediate and skilled levels of nursing care for local veterans. The actual facility, access roads and parking footprint would occupy approximately 10 acres on the tract of property donated by Steve Williams, Thomas Williams and Robert Wright.
McDaris said the Montgomery County facility is the first of the new design that emphasizes independent living in more private apartment units designed for single occupancy. Each unit will have its own restroom. The bedrooms and bathrooms are bigger. There are more seating areas, more living rooms, more dining rooms and more kitchens. Bradley County will be the second of that type. In addition, the delivery method of the home in Clarksville and Cleveland is changing from low-bid contractor to contract-manager to oversee construction.
“I think we can learn a lot about the new design, about what works and what doesn’t so when they get to us, we should have a better facility,” he said.
The Lewis Group, with Cleveland architect Doug Caywood as the principle, was selected to design the local home though contracts will not be signed until after July 1. The last half of 2013 and all of 2014 will be centered on refining the architectural drawings as the process advances though four stages of development that are all part of the design process. The four stages are: program development, schematic development, design development and construction document.
Brooks said local legislators have worked very closely with their colleagues in the House and Senate from Montgomery County on these two important veterans’ homes.
“In fact, at almost every meeting, both senators and representatives from both Montgomery and Bradley County were present," he said. "The State Veterans Home Board, the deputy governor and the governor have all expressed 100 percent support of the Bradley County veterans home. The fact that the Montgomery County veterans home is right on track, means we are one step closer to breaking ground on our own Veteran's Home, right here in Bradley County."