Progress Made On Bradley Veterans Home, But Obstacles Still Remain On Complex Project

Saturday, May 17, 2014
A state official said progress continues on the site of the proposed state veterans home in Bradley County, but he stopped short of saying the remaining obstacles could be overcome.

Director of Facilities and Capital Projects for the State Real Estate and Asset Management Christopher Remke took that job in January. Though he has experience in land development, he is still learning about the Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home project. In an effort to familiarize himself, he and one of three land donors, Steve Williams, have spent a great deal of energy in the past few weeks talking, officials said.

He came to Cleveland to visit with architect Doug Caywood, State Veterans Home Director of Plant Operations Taylor Wyrick, and Mr. Williams, one of three donors of 27 acres at 1940 Westland Dr. in February 2010. The other two donors are Thomas Williams and Robert Wright.

Mr. Remke, Mr. Wyrick and Tennessee STVH Director Ed Harries spoke to veterans home council members during a meeting in the offices of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce.

“There has been a lot of energy over trying to understand where we are,” Mr. Remke said. “Where we simply are is I’m here and I’m going to stay here tonight and work again with them in the morning to try to figure out how we really do continue to advance on the location. I’ve heard you are believers in it and we’re believers in it too. My team has not gotten you there, yet, but my commitment is to make that effort. What we have been talking about is: How do we create the foundation that helps you get there.”

Mr. Williams, who has been critical of the lack of progress in the past, said, “I think we’ve moved farther in the last hour than we’ve moved in the last two and one-half years. It’s hard to pull this together from different directions and I think we’ve got the right man here.”

State officials, including Tennessee VA Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder, met in March to find a way forward. SETV Home Council Co-Chairman Cid Heidel said that meeting was very positive in that a better line of communications was established between Nashville and Bradley County.

“There was some information that got twisted and spun in the wrong direction that I think got cleared up by the donors and representatives from STREAM,” Mr. Heidel said. “The last time I checked, earlier this week, some discussion was going on, some positive things were going on.”

STREAM rejected the property in November 2013 because the property is a flag lot, it lacked visibility and the amount of fill dirt needed to correct a 1 percent grade was more than the $1.8 million budgeted for site development.

In response to those objections, the city of Cleveland committed to extending Kile Lane to the property to eliminate the issue of the flag lot. In addition, the three donors said they and other companies have volunteer equipment and labor and are ready to start work on removing any other obstacles on the property, including the acquisition of more land.

In March, Mr. Williams proposed that the state continue the design process to determine if the state’s objections could be eliminated. If not, Mr. Williams said he owns about 40 acres on the south side of APD-40, opposite Gray Epperson Hyundai.

Even if the site is eventually accepted by the state, there is still the issue of funding. Mr. Grinder reminded the group in March that in order to move the project forward past the design phase, the local share had increased because of new federal guidelines for the homes. The original requirement was $7 million, which had been met through a $3 million anonymous donation and commitments of $2.2 million each from the city of Cleveland and Bradley County.

“In order to get moved up to priority one, we are still short $869, 900. When we certify the funds which means we are swearing these funds are available and ready,” Mr. Grinder said, “then we need the state Legislature to pass the governor’s budget where he put in that $4 million. Then the federal government is going to have to come up with their funding.”

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