Meeting held to present details of construction of Veteran's Home

Jessica Stölen-Jacobson
Montevideo American-News

A meeting was held last Wednesday for stakeholders in the new Veteran’s Home to be built in Montevideo starting this fall. Of those in attendance was Marv Garbe on behalf of the local veterans, the Montevideo Mayor Erich Winter, city staff, county representatives from Chippewa and the surrounding counties, Veterans Services Officers from Chippewa and the surrounding counties, area politicians, the media, National Guard Armory representatives, members of the military and special guest Jim Williams, the brother of Steve Williams who left a three million dollar donation to the construction of the home in his will.

The project has been ongoing since a small group of veterans in 2007 spoke with then-senator Gary Kubly about the idea of opening a Veteran’s Home in Montevideo. “We went to the county courthouse to fill out an application thinking that in a couple of years we’d have it. Well it’s 2021,” said Garbe. “I went back and looked. The first time we went to testify, there were 17 on the bus, and as of now, of that 17 nine have passed away.”

After Garbe’s introduction, the Minnesota Commissioner of Veterans Affairs, Larry Herke spoke, saying, “I just want to say that I appreciate all of the help and support from the community because this is something the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs cannot do by itself. There’s a requirement for a State match here and that takes Legislative support. It also, in this case, was very important to have private funding. Without the private funding and Legislative support, there would be no project.” Herke also introduced speakers for the event including Deputy Commissioner of Veterans Healthcare Douglas Hughes; Sara Malin of Wold Architects and Engineers; Scott Miller, project manager; Ryan Allen, Department of Administration who partners with the Department of Veterans Affairs to develop the project; a representative from Knutson Construction, the contractors building the home. 

“I want to congratulate you,” Herke said to the stakeholders.  “Of the three homes, you guys have brought the most private funding money to the table. Where that helped out was when it comes to the 35-65 match. There was more of the 35% there so you could get more money for the project overall. We received a donation in 2018 when we had the donation of Veteran Steve Williams and that money has been instrumental in this project. We had in 2018 the legislature came forward and provided that 35 percent that was required that was actually tied in with the 5 million of private money to reach that 65%.” 

Herke also announced that the last of the paperwork was signed and submitted on June 29, and that acknowledgment of receipt has been sent back from the Federal Veterans Administration. “We know that it’s moving from one office to another. Yesterday I was given notice that the budget for our home has been approved by the budget office, so it’s moving to the grants approval office. We believe we will get the final approval at the end of July, beginning of August. At that time, the money will begin flowing to us and we’ll move forward with the project. Right now I don’t see any roadblocks that would keep us from getting that final approval from the Federal VA,” Herke said. He went on to add that the operational dollars received from Legislature are one of the additional key aspects to getting the Veteran’s Home off the ground. “Our intent is to bring the staff on incrementally over a six-month period and allow them to work in the facility, but also be able to go to other facilities to pick up best practices, and lessons learned and then they’ll be ready to open. We have about a full year of full staff operational budget so we’re in good shape,” he said.

Sara Malin presented the plans for the construction project on behalf of Wold Architects and Engineers. Malin presented blueprints, showing the footprint of the building, saying, “The way the building is designed, there are four households for 18 residents each based on the Federal VA small house guidelines. We kind of create these clusters for different areas so the bedrooms have smaller subgroups within the larger building. It feels a little bit smaller scale.” Malin also pointed out the community building that has a separate exterior entrance, but can also be accessed from interior entries. Henke pointed out that this particular portion of the building is unique to the Montevideo Veteran’s Home and was made possible by the large donation the group received.

Malin continued describing the layout saying, “When you come in, you have this grand entrance hall. We want you to be able to look out and see that beautiful farmland beyond and really remind you that you’re in this beautiful setting. We have a seating area, family dining, a smaller multi-purpose room, a meditation room, and physical therapy as well as barber/beauty areas. What we’re trying to do is create a variety of areas for Veterans to do things like play cards, or watch a movie, or have family come in. We wanted to create a variety of spaces so they have a really nice lifestyle while they’re living here,” she said.

Each of the 18 private resident rooms are designed to have a private bathroom. The private resident room consists of a bed, a side table, a chair, a table that can be used for a computer or to have a meal with a family member, a toilet, shower, and sink. There also is an area with a shared three-season porch. “I think it’s kind of important to talk about how the food is done because it is such an important part of life,” said Malin. “There is the main kitchen where the food is going to be prepped, but at mealtime, it’s going to come up to a pantry area and it’s going to get finished in that kitchen. This kitchen is going to feel like a kitchen you’re going to have in your home. A good example is if you’re going to have lasagna for supper one night, they’re going to prep it in the main kitchen but they’re going to cook it in the other kitchen and you’re going to be able to smell the smells and hear the sounds of food being prepped. And there’s also going to be snacks and things available between meals. It’s going to be like your house, we want it to feel like home.”         

Wrapping up her discussion on the look of the building, Malin pointed out that the building will be almost 90,000 square feet. “We don’t want it to feel like a hospital or a big institution, so we’re really trying to break the scale down to feel more residential. For the look of it, we really draw on that prairie style. We responded to that based on the community meetings. There’s a lot of stone, brick, we’re trying to get a lot of light into that building. We wanted it to feel really durable, safe, comfortable.”

Jim Williams, brother of Steve Williams who bequeathed the large donation to the project in his will, took the opportunity to speak at the meeting as well, noting that his family’s hope for the community room is that it brings Veterans residing in the home together with Veterans residing in the community. “What I’m hoping is that a wife or a husband could drop off their spouse for three or four hours to play cards or visit and the people there are seeing them every day or every other day because sometimes these people sit at home, and they don’t get out, and you don’t see their health deteriorating. They have a connection to the veterans who are in this home,” Williams said.

Garbe pointed out that the many hours spent by Williams and former City Administrator Angie Steinbach contributed greatly to the cause. Williams responded with emotion in his voice, noting the feelings involved with all of the effort put into the project. “When Marv called me and said they were going to break ground this year… oh boy, I cried for about an hour after I talked to Marv. It’s just exciting to be here. Everything fell into place. There’s another power up there, believe me,” Williams said.

Currently, the plan is that construction begins to mobilize in mid-September and the home would be ready for residents in 2023.  Deputy Commissioner of Veterans Healthcare Douglas Hughes spoke about the decisions involved with the design of the home, stating, “We took our knowledge with managing a home-like environment and went out to different nursing homes to see what we like or don’t like. We would call up nurses and ask, do you want the grab bar to the left or to the right. We spent so much time designing it to make it right, and when we went to Chicago to pick the materials, we had actually spoken to physical therapy, occupational therapy, and behavioral health so we made sure we had everything right. The carpet - we had that right because once you get to advance dementia, the design of the carpet will have an effect on those who have dementia. So we took this very, very seriously. Every single aspect and I can tell you it was a lot of work, but we put the Veteran in mind. There was a lot of thought put into that whether it was staffing or financial.”

Hughes also noted that at the groundbreaking ceremony scheduled for August 23 (time is yet to be determined), there will be booths to answer questions about employment and residential requirements. “By groundbreaking, we will have websites for all of that and there will be brochures available,” Hughes said. He also noted that this facility will be the most state-of-the-art facility of its kind in Minnesota.  “Everyone’s going to want to come here. They’re all going to want to come here because this is really going to be the place in Minnesota,” Hughes said. 

Herke closed the meeting, stating, “In closing, I’d like to say this is an extraordinary effort and it took a lot of work by a lot of people.”