State Commissioners Bob Oglesby (General Services) and Many-Bears Grinder (Veterans Affairs) visited Cleveland Friday to discuss how the concerns of the state of Tennessee Real Estate and Asset Management Division could be overcome to make the donated property on Westland Drive an acceptable site.
Oglesby, land donor Steve Williams and architects from the Lewis Group will continue discussions of William’s plan to remove all obstacles to using the site.
Williams showed an architectural drawing of a possible solution during Friday’s meeting, which ended with a trip to the site.
The site has a considerable hill in the back of the property making orientation of the building a concern.
Williams said he had spoken with an adjacent property owner who had agreed to sell a portion of his land for the project, if the site needed to be widened.
“I think we’re spending a lot of valuable time worrying about something we don’t need to be worrying about,” land donor Robert Wright said.
Wright said it simply needed to be approached with a make-it-work attitude.
“To me that’s a smooth site, working with what I have over the past 50 years,” Wright said. “We can make that site work.”
Changes to the federal requirements to how veterans homes are designed has caused some of the space issues with the site.
Grinder stressed the change in regulations meant a nicer place for the veterans to live.
Oglesby said having a flat site with no more than a 2 percent change in grade across the site was important.
He also expressed concern at the cost of retaining walls that would be needed to use the propose site. These walls would be needed near a detention pond on the site.
Oglesby said the most recent design he had seen looked to include $1 million to $2 million worth of retaining walls. He said this added with cost of getting utilities to the site could cost $3 million to $5 million.
“That would be something we do not have money for in our budget at this time,” Oglesby said.
Keeping the costs within an attainable range will also be a consideration as site plan discussions move forward.
“If we can’t work through them, then I can understand you not taking it (the site),” Williams said.
From the initial list of concerns, those crucial to the site being accepted are roadway to the site, utilities and slope work.
City of Cleveland Director of Development and Engineering Jonathan Jobe confirmed during Friday’s meeting the city’s plan to extend Kile Lane to the site.
“Everything’s got cost, wherever you go you are going to have these costs,” Williams said. “In working with that site … It’s good classified soil.”
He said the absence of good soil could further increase cost of the project.
Williams said he had worked on similar projects in the past and did not see how $1 million of retainer walls would be needed.
Oglesby said these costs are estimates. There is currently $2 million budgeted for site preparation. Utilities or infrastructure that needs to be developed outside of the project site in order to bring it to the site are not approved to come out of this portion of the funding.
Williams has volunteered to do the slope work necessary to make the site acceptable. This in-kind contribution cannot be counted toward the nearly $870,000 in additional local or state funds needed for the project.
The project could not be started until this funding is secured.
Williams said he felt once the community was certain the project was moving forward, they would come behind the project and donate the needed money.
“We have already seen a demonstration of what this community is able to do,” Grinder said. “Rep.(Kevin) Brooks said he didn’t see it as a problem and I’m sure what he was speaking to was this community’s heart toward its beloved veterans. You just aren’t going to let something like that stand in your way. I believe that. I believe we can make this happen.”
In order to be on the federal veterans home priority one list, the funding must be secured by April 15 of a given year, according to Grinder.
She said she could not promise a timeline for the project even if the project was in the list because the projects are completed as funding becomes available.
He said he also felt other area contractors would be willing to donate other work.
Staying with the Westland Drive site will save costs on having to conduct environmental testing at another site.
State legislators representing Bradley County and Cleveland, Cid Heidel of the Southeast Tennessee State Veterans Home Council, other city officials and other state officials with in the General Services and Veterans Affairs offices were also present at the meeting with more than 20 people related to the project in attendance.