VETS HOME GROUNDBREAKING SET!

Officials agree Aug. 21 to be a 'historic' date

By RICK NORTON and LARRY BOWERS
Posted 7/12/19

A 16-year journey anchored by perseverance, community support and plenty of sweat and tears took a face Thursday with the long-awaited announcement of a groundbreaking date for the state-of-the-art …

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VETS HOME GROUNDBREAKING SET!

Officials agree Aug. 21 to be a 'historic' date

Posted

A 16-year journey anchored by perseverance, community support and plenty of sweat and tears took a face Thursday with the long-awaited announcement of a groundbreaking date for the state-of-the-art Bradley County Tennessee State Veterans Home.

Mark your calendar: Wednesday, Aug. 21, a date that local officials agree will be "historic."

Confirmation came in a joint statement released by Courtney Rogers, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Veterans Services, and Ed Harries, executive director of the Tennessee State Veterans Home board.

The announcement followed approval by the Tennessee State Building Commission earlier in the day of a $30,524,427 grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for the new state veterans home.

Total project cost is estimated at $47 million, with the balance being paid by a multitude of partners: State of Tennessee, $10 million; city of Cleveland, $2 million; Bradley County, $2 million; and $3 million by an anonymous donor. In recent years, a variety of locally organized fundraising events have added to the veterans home coffers.

Rogers, who was named Tennessee Veterans Services commissioner following the January inauguration of Gov. Bill Lee, pointed to the teamwork involved in bringing the local nursing facility to this point.

“There have been many dedicated organizations and individuals at the local and state levels — both public and private — which have been involved in this process since it began, so it is an honor to finally share this news today,” Rogers said.

The commissioner added, “Planning for the groundbreaking ceremony actually began over two months ago in anticipation of the final VA grant approval, and our department greatly appreciates the support of the many stakeholders who are committed to getting this project officially started.”

Harries said he is “thrilled” that Tennessee’s nursing-home care is reaching out to Bradley County’s veterans, and the approximate 50,000 veterans who live within the immediate six-county area.

“At Tennessee State Veterans Homes, we consider it an honor and a privilege to care for America’s heroes,” Harries said. “Our incredible staff goes above and beyond to ensure our residents receive the highest quality of care.”

He added, “We are thrilled that we finally get the opportunity to serve the veterans of Bradley County and surrounding areas.”

Local officials

ecstatic over news

Local reaction to Thursday's announcement from Nashville was unsurprisingly ecstatic, especially from those who have dedicated years of service to bringing the project to fruition.

 Among those is Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis whose county government joined forces with their Cleveland municipal counterparts to commit $2 million each to the veterans facility.

“I can remember many events in my lifetime that I anticipated, that when achieved, were truly worth the waiting time involved,” Davis said. “Being informed that construction will soon begin on our community’s veterans home has to be some of the greatest news that I have ever received.”

Cleveland Mayor Kevin Brooks, who lobbied for years in Nashville for the veterans home during his six terms as a state representative in the Tennessee Legislature, said Thursday's announcement — as well as the groundbreaking date itself — will become a historic moment for the city and county community of this Southeast Tennessee town.

“Thursday was truly a day that will be marked in the history books of Cleveland, Tennessee and Bradley County,” Brooks said. “As we gladly receive the final approval from the State Building Commission for our new Bradley County Tennessee State Veterans Home, we honor and acknowledge the service of all those who will one day be living in this brand-new home.”

Brooks, who was sworn into office last September as Cleveland mayor, sponsored House Resolution 351 in 2008 urging the governor to consider planning and construction of a state veterans home in Bradley County. In the same year, the Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home Council was established to promote the project and to help raise the much-needed 35% contribution from state and local sources to qualify for federal funding.

The Bradley County Commission and Cleveland City Council approved resolutions in 2003 to support a nursing facility for veterans in need of long-term care. The anonymous donation was pledged in 2006.

State legislators

supported the home

Elation was also being sounded by local legislators who have long advocated for the local facility.

“It is with great anticipation that we look forward to the groundbreaking for the veterans home here in Bradley County,” said state Rep. Mark Hall (R-Cleveland) who represents the 24th Legislative District. “With the large percent of veterans here in the county, this project is much-needed and long-awaited.”

Hall, who is a former member of the Bradley County Commission, had previously co-chaired the SETVHC with Cleveland resident Cid Heidel. Hall stepped down from the post in January when he was sworn in as Cleveland’s new state representative, succeeding Brooks.

State Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville), himself a veteran who has also worked to secure veterans home funding in Bradley County, called it a “monumental day.”

“This is truly a monumental day as we are beginning to see the fruits of the labor of so many citizens, especially our veterans, who have worked very hard to bring this veterans home to Bradley County,” Bell stated. “This has been a grassroots effort and I am very humbled to be a part of this worthwhile project.”

State Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown, who represents the 22nd Legislative District which includes part of Bradley County, joined his state and local colleagues in embracing the moment. Long an advocate of the veterans home facility, Howell said the initiative represents the “hard work and determined efforts” of many people at the local and state levels.

State Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) whose 10th Senatorial District includes a portion of Bradley, said he too is thrilled at Thursday's news. Like Howell, he pointed to the teamwork involved in bringing the long-waited veterans home to the August groundbreaking.

Land donors, Council,

VSO are credited

The families of Cleveland businessmen Steve Williams, Thomas Williams and Robert Wright have also been instrumental in the veterans home initiative. They donated 28 acres of land at 1940 Westland Drive in 2010 that would serve as home to the new facility.

Throughout the process, the SETVHC has worked ardently to support the state facility. The local nonprofit is currently co-chaired by Kim Dees, who succeeded Hall, and by Heidel. Also integral in the initiative for years was Larry McDaris, who recently retired as director of the Bradley County Veterans Services Office, as well as Joe Davis, another Bradley County VSO retiree.

Brian Heusterberg succeeded McDaris as local VSO director.

Past commissioner, 

staff were critical

At the state level, much of the original legwork was coordinated by former Tennessee Veterans Services Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder who retired after serving Tennessee veterans for eight years under then-Gov. Bill Haslam. She was succeeded by Rogers.

Also instrumental toward advancing the veterans home cause in Grinder’s office was Yvette Martinez, assistant commissioner, Intergovernmental and External Relations.

The new Bradley County Tennessee State Veterans Home will provide resident-centered and individualized care for qualified veterans. The estimated $47 million project will fund construction of the single-story, 108-bed intermediate and skilled-care facility. 

Since the original confirmation of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs funding for the veterans home in April 2018, the local facility has undergone a slight redesign that increases the number of occupants in each residential unit and decreases the number of units.

The number of residential occupants remains the same at 108.

Designed as a neighborhood concept, it will now consist of six 18-bedroom residential houses interconnected by interior-shared support spaces spanning 110,000 square feet. Future residents will have access to a community center that contains therapeutic spaces, dining areas, activity rooms and resident-support offices.

Some of the changes in the redesign were based on learnings from the construction of previous veterans homes in Tennessee, including the most recent in Montgomery County. The Clarksville facility opened just a few years ago, and is the newest of Tennessee's veterans homes.

The veterans home groundbreaking ceremony will begin at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 21, at 1940 Westland Drive in Cleveland.

Additional comments

from local officials

Cleveland Mayor Emeritus Tom Rowland, a veteran and longtime supporter of veterans organizations and projects, was serving the residents of the city throughout the duration of this community effort.

"I am thrilled beyond words to know the groundbreaking is finally here," Rowland said. "So many people are responsible for making it happen. I guess good things do not come swiftly. Many thanks go to Cid Heidel and Mark Hall, co-chairs of the Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home Council, and the dedicated members.

"Thanks to those who worked hard to cut federal red tape, including Gov. Bill Haslam and Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder, who stayed on top of the project.

"I would especially thank city and county government, as well as our local legislative delegation and Mayor Kevin Brooks, who hosted several meetings in Cleveland with state officials

"I never see businessman Steve Williams, that he doesn't talk about the home, suggest ideas, and volunteer time and service. The home wouldn't have happened without the anonymous cash donors and land donors.

"Appreciation also goes to Gov. Bill Lee's administration for keeping the fight going," Rowland added in closing.

[Cid] Heidel, longtime-co-chair of the Veterans Home Council and the state's contact in Cleveland, said early today he is proud the state has made this announcement.

"It's a proud day for Cleveland, and our veterans," Heidel said. "It's been a long time coming, and I'm proud to have been a little part of it."

He added, "I'd like to express appreciation to everyone on the local, state and national level, and a special thanks to those who supported the effort with financing, and donations, including grade-school students from the community."

[Kim] Dees, who now co-chairs the SETVHC, reflected on the long journey.

"We're absolutely excited by the news," Dees said. "This is the end we've been looking for all these years. We had our ups and downs, then turned it over to the state. It's in their hands now."

Dees added that a meeting of the Council has been scheduled Thursday, Aug. 15, at 3:30 p.m. at the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce.

It is going on two years since the Council last met, and it is anticipated some reorganization will take place at this meeting.

"It would be nice if the state veterans office could have someone there," Dees said.

Liz Norwood, widow of the late Bill Norwood, was also excited by the veterans home news. 

Her husband was a Korean War prisoner of war, and a longtime advocate of veterans throughout the community. He is memorialized with a statute in Cleveland's 1st Street Square, and was one of the initial members of the Veterans Home Council.

"Bill would have been very happy," his wife said Thursday. "He was so afraid this would never happen. I know he will be looking down on us from above."

[Brian] Huesterberg, who now directs the local Veterans Services Office, offered congratulatory remarks from his office and staff.

"This is exciting news for the veterans of Cleveland, Bradley County and Southeast Tennessee," he said. "I know this groundbreaking is highly anticipated by everyone involved, all those who have worked hard in bringing the veterans home to Bradley County."


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