State officials planning to build a veterans care center employing upward of 500 people are eyeing just two locations for the project:
While lobbying for former Virginia School property,
Fort Monroe officials believe the former military post would be an ideal campus for veterans and the medical personnel treating them. City officials, however, contend Fort Monroe is not a site for medical patients because strong storms could flood the property and cut off evacuation routes.
A state Department of Veterans Services commissioner, however, said many of the city's criticisms are unfounded.
The Virginia Department of Veterans Services announced last April plans to build the veterans facility in
This year, the state committed $37 million toward the center that would treat elderly and infirmed veterans. Federal funds would also be needed for the project.
"These are high-paying jobs at a state-of-the-art care facility for veterans that are maybe there for long-term care or recovering from a hospital stay," Bruce Sturk, Hampton director of federal facilities, said last week. "Hampton is a city that is very welcoming and is very veteran friendly."
A state Department of Veterans Services spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday it received a request from the Fort Monroe Authority to evaluate a swath of land along Stillwell Drive in the North Gate area, and from the city of Hampton to evaluate the former Virginia School for the Deaf, Blind and Multi-disabled off Shell Road.
The existing Hampton VA Medical Center campus is not being considered for the project, although state Veterans Service Department officials have said the new facility should be located close to the VA Medical Center.
The state is expected to announce its decision in mid-November.
Documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act outline the city's concerns with building a veterans care center at Fort Monroe.
City Manager Mary Bunting, Police Chief Charles "Chuck" Jordan, Fire Chief David Layman, and Emergency Services Coordinator Hui-Shan Walker, all penned letters contending:
•Fort Monroe can flood in severe weather
•Evacuating 240 people from the Fort Monroe peninsula would be difficult
•Fort Monroe's strict design standards would increase construction costs
The city included an elevation contour map and flood insurance rate map of Fort Monroe in its correspondence submitted to the state.
"Indeed, if this facility is built at Fort Monroe and should a major storm erupt, those residing at the facility would be put at high risk for potential injuries if not casualties," Jordan wrote. "Evacuations would be required which would be another factor that could compromise the residents' safety because of the existence of only one main entrance to and from the island."
Sturk echoed those concerns Thursday, although he said he didn't know Fort Monroe officials submitted sites for review until told by the Daily Press.
"From a public safety standpoint, there are some concerns with flooding around that North Gate area," he said.
Bill Janis, the deputy commissioner in the Virginia Department of Veterans Services, said he has concerns with Hampton's approach to the Fort Monroe site.
"I looked at the city's letter and was flattered that they were aggressive to court us with their specific site, but I guess I took a little bit of umbrage in Hampton Police's letter," Janis said. "The crux of their letter was that they can't guarantee the safety of our residents and they might wander off somewhere and drown."
Janis said patients with
"The DVS will provide safety and security for our patients and staff," he said. "And any site in Hampton Roads is a potential ground zero for a hurricane, tropical storm or nor'easter. We have provisions available for any approaching storm."
The state would also not ask local emergency responders for help evacuating patients ahead of a storm.
"If a storm is coming, then we will know well in advance," Janis said. "We have the resources available to evacuate them as necessary to acute-care facilities that are safe."
Fort Monroe Authority Executive Director
"Certainly, there is something fitting about Fort Monroe being a site for veterans," he said. "But if they say they're interested in Fort Monroe, then we would go through the same public process with our planning committee and board of trustees that we would go through with anyone who was interested in locating at Fort Monroe."
Fort Monroe Authority Board of Trustees Chairwoman Terrie L. Suit said she's open to the opportunity of having a veterans care center locate on the former Army post. She also noted the board of trustees has not discussed the project's merits.
"We want as many opportunities to come our way as possible," Suit said. "We're going to gin up as much interest as possible, even if that means maybe two of every 10 opportunities come to fruition."
Suit is also the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security for the state. As secretary, she plans to abstain from any votes concerning Fort Monroe and the veterans care center.
"The Fort Monroe Authority has responded to the state's request that we do indeed have real estate here that they might want to take a look at," she said.
The state Department of Veterans Services considers the proximity to the VA Medical Center in
Both the former state school property and Fort Monroe are within a seven-mile drive of the VA.
Locating the center on Fort Monroe would have its challenges. The Army still owns the property, even though more than 200 acres are expected to revert to the state in the upcoming months.
A portion of Stillwell Drive being offered by the authority does not automatically revert back to the state. Lawyers from the Army and the state are negotiating the future of that 38.8-acre plot.
The commonwealth must have clear title to the property before it can build on it, according to Veterans Services Department documents outlining the project.
The Fort Monroe Authority is also undergoing a master planning process that is not expected to be complete until 2013.
The former school site on Shell Road comes with its own quirks.
Of the 75-acre property, almost 50 acres was obtained by the city of Hampton from the state in 2010 for $2.5 million.
Ownership of the remaining 25 acres is being researched because a clause in the title reverts the property back to the original donating families if the state discontinued the school. No known heirs exist for those families.
The state is asking municipalities to donate the land so the veterans care facility can be built, Janis said.
"We're not really able to purpose pre-existing facilities," he said. "But we can change our footprint to an extent so it fits on the property we're given."
The city's influence on Fort Monroe also does not go much beyond its ability to lobby state and federal officials.
Complicating the relationship between the city and the Fort Monroe Authority concerning the veterans center project is that Mayor Molly Joseph Ward and Vice Mayor George Wallace are voting members of the 14-member Fort Monroe Authority Board of Trustees which makes decisions concerning the property's future.
Ward said she agrees Fort Monroe is not a site for infirmed patients, although she said the argument doesn't hold water for tenants without special needs.
"It's that high level of care that is a concern," she said. "I feel that the Virginia School is a good alternate site for that facility because it's elevation above sea level and its proximity to a number of highways and other medical facilities."
A message left with state Del. Gordon Helsel, R-Poquoson, who sits on the Fort Monroe Authority Board of Trustees, was not returned.
The state now operates two similar veterans care centers near Roanoke and in Richmond that are at, or near, capacity — both have impacted their respective communities' economies.
The state has advertised that the Hampton Roads facility would operate with a roughly $20 million annual budget, $16 million of which would be spent on the 400 to 500 jobs associated with the center.
In Richmond, the Sitter and Barfoot Veterans Care Center has 160 beds in three
Further west, the Virginia Veterans Care Center has 240 beds and offers long-term care along with a variety of health services. It is adjacent to the
"We're very fortunate to have a hospital of that caliber in our community," said
Not only have doctors and other hospital staff moved into the Salem area, but so have families who have relatives staying in the center, she said.
"These are doctors and highly skilled medical staff and a lot of entry-level staff too," Waugh said. "So these are good jobs and those people will buy from local vendors during their daily lives outside of work."
Location: Three overlapping sites along Stillwell Road in the North Gate area
Size: About 215 acres will be controlled by the state once the Army transfers ownership of the property
Limitations: Limited access on and off the property, low-lying land, strict design standards
Former Virginia School for the Deaf, Blind and Multi-disabled
Location: 700 Shell Road, Hampton
Size: 76.7 acres
Limitations: A reverter clause mandates 25 acres of the property would need to be used for a purpose similar to the former Virginia School.
Timeline of events
By July 31: Deadline to nominate sites
Aug. 1 to Oct. 31: Sites are evaluated
Nov. 1 to Nov. 16: Site will be selected
Nov. 19: Decision will be made public
Source: Virginia Department of Veterans Services
Fort Monroe North Gate
"The North Gate area spans north from the moat to Mill Creek; today, this area includes storage warehouses, surface parking lots, and garages. This area will most likely be used for new construction that integrates seamlessly with contributing historic structures and creates good addresses within a walkable urban framework. Pedestrian connections should be incorporated throughout, including sidewalks along all streets, crosswalks leading to key destinations, and a public trail along Mill Creek."