Veterans home priority change is not setback
by JOYANNA LOVE Banner Senior Staff Writer
Jan 05, 2014 | 868 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Supporters of the Cleveland Bradley County State Veterans Home met with state commissioners in Nashville Friday to foster a better spirit of cooperation toward resolving concerns about the prospective site for the veterans home.

On the same day as the meeting, the national priority list for funding of veterans homes revealed the Cleveland home had dropped from 71 to 100.

“This should not be seen as a setback for Cleveland,” Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder said. “We are still enthusiastic about the home in Cleveland.”

Co-chair of the Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home Council Cid Heidel, along with state Rep. Kevin Brooks met with General Service Commissioner Bob Oglesby and Grinder.

“We are all collaborating, and we are working together in moving forward so we are making progress in sharing information and looking at different options,” Grinder said.

“It was a good meeting. We just talked in generalities,” Heidel said. “Yesterday’s (Friday) meeting was really just to establish communication.”

The goal of the meeting was to begin discussion to form “a collaborative effort to work together to continue this progress for the Bradley County Veterans home,” Brooks said.

“We don’t want anything from this day forward to press the pause button or cause anyone to think this project is on hold.”

Heidel took the opportunity to explain to the state commissioners that local supporters felt each of the concerns addressed by the State of Tennessee Real Estate and Asset Management could be addressed to make the land a suitable site.

Brooks said a preliminary rough draft of the floor plan was presented during discussions Friday.

However, he said this was not a detailed engineered drawing.

“They have agreed to get to us [the Council] very specific building guidelines and regulations for our specific building site prior to the Jan. 9 meeting,” Brooks said.

A final draft of the floor plan will be presented at the Jan. 9 meeting of the local council if all goes as planned, Brooks said.

“We understand their perspective a lot better, and they understand our perspective a lot better than we did on Nov. 14,” Heidel said. “I feel good about it.”

Grinder said the change in ranking was not related to site concerns expressed by STREAM.

“The list if someone is looking at it without knowing history might be alarming. However, once they understand the history, specifically the price estimation at the time the application first went forward as opposed to today’s construction cost ... the design changed significantly, which increased the cost.” Grinder said.

Changes to the design of the facility, to comply with new regulations, have caused an increase in price.

The new plan is a series of individual single occupancy rooms set up as houses with its own kitchen, bathroom and fireplace.

“The estimated cost was going to be between $8 and $11 million more than had been estimated,” Grinder said. “That meant the city, county, state donor, someone would have to come up with that delta in order to mitigate that the decision was made to withdraw the application last year and submit a new one with a new cost that way the federal government would end up funding most of that delta.”

Increases in cost also meant the state match would have to be increased, and these funds were not available.

“Because of that, we dropped into what is called priority two,” Grinder said. “Priority one is all those projects where the state matching fund have and can be already certified by the state. Since the state could not certify funds for this new application, then we fell into priority two.”

Grinder said the state would need to contribute $6 million more to give the project certified funding and bring it back up to priority one when the new list comes out.

The position of the local veterans home on the state list of funding has not changed.

“The priority is still the same, now when everything is going to get done and meet all of these various timelines — we have to work through that,” Grinder said.

Even if the project had the funding to certify the project, the local home could not be built until 2015 because a home opened last year in Montgomery County.

“Operationally we would not be able to able to open another home that soon anyway. We need some time in between,” Grinder said.

Funding at the state level and other time-related issues causes veteran homes to fluctuate on the federal list.

At the November meeting of the local veterans council, it had appointed a committee of action that would work with those at the state level to get clarification on how to move forward. The committee of action also hoped to get a copy of the plans for the veterans home.

Members of the council committee of action had discussed wanting to meet with the General Services Commissioner to discuss STREAM’s concerns with the proposed site for the veterans affairs.