Military and civilian leaders broke ground Monday on the Hinesville Department of Veterans Affairs Clinic, which will provide primary care and specialty treatments to veterans closer to home.
Wearing hard hats and sharing one shovel, Ralph H. Johnson VAMC Director Carolyn Adams, Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga. 1st, and Col. Ronald Place, commander of Winn Army Community Hospital, dug into a box of soil to represent the start of construction.
Though a 5,000-square-foot temporary clinic already offers primary and mental-health care here, the 23,348-square-foot permanent facility will have six primary-care professionals, as well as pharmacy, radiology, optometrist, women’s health and transition and case management services, according to Tonya Lobbestael, public affairs officer for the Charleston-based regional VA system.
The project is slated for completion in spring 2014, and construction crews should be on the site within weeks, Lobbestael said.
Leaders spoke about the project’s importance during a ceremony.
“Collaboratively, the health-care services for our retirees and veterans have significantly increased. And this is a physical manifestation of the will of both the American people and Congress … to understand the service that the men and women have given,” Place said.
Thomas, himself a veteran, thanked the VA and MEDDAC for providing a facility that treats veterans and families and said it will offer a place to seek care and to reflect.
The temporary clinic has provided more than 15,000 appointments to 2,400 veterans, Adams said. The new facility is expected to serve up to 7,200 patients.
Kingston spoke about appreciation for soldiers and the importance of preserving freedom.
“I think that’s one of the great things that we’re doing here today is showing the veterans that we appreciate the sacrifice that they have made on behalf of our freedom,” he said.
After the groundbreaking, Kingston said the clinic also could benefit Fort Stewart during future conversations about base realignment and closures. It also will have a regional draw for patients while eliminating need to travel elsewhere.
“It would look better for us to have an investment in a new veterans clinic,” Kingston said. “It enhances the military base.”
Several members of the Disabled American Veterans Chapter No. 46 were present and called it a great day that signifies success after years of petitioning federal leaders to provide VA services closer to home.
DAV past Department Commander Gregory Harris said the group has spearheaded the move.
“It’s something we’ve been waiting on. We’ve been waiting a long time … it’ll serve a good purpose for this area because the major hospitals all are like two hours away,” Harris said.
Senior Vice Commander Donald Spencer said 655 disabled veterans belong to the local chapter.
Since the temporary clinic opened in 2011, it has alleviated the need for veterans to travel to Dublin, Augusta, Savannah and South Carolina for some services, they said.
The group hopes to have a field service office in the clinic, Spencer said. Currently, they assist veterans with claims 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Liberty County Health Department.
The project was developed by Colorado based SDA Inc. It will be constructed by Evans General Contractors.
SDA Senior Vice President Marc Biagotti estimated construction will cost $5.5 million and said the entire building boasts more square-footage than the VA cites because certain spaces— such as the lobby, mechanical and janitorial closets — are not listed under the VA’s long-term lease.
In all, the building is 34,000 square feet with a 1 1/2-story lobby and one floor of clinical space.
The 1 1/2 acre site also will contain a 400-yard path that patients and the public can walk to get fresh air.
Trees will remain along the site’s perimeter and where available in the design, but Biagotti said they have to clear some oaks to accommodate the 191 parking spaces required.
“We have done everything we can to keep as many trees as possible,” he added.
Hinesville Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Vicki Davis said the project fits the longer vision for Memorial Drive, a redevelopment years in the making.
“This is the gateway to our Memorial Drive district, and it also contributes to some of the lifestyle amenities that we have identified in some of the reports that have been done,” she said, citing a May Hinesville Community for All Ages report.
It emphasized making services available within a walkable district to the aging population, a plan that falls in line with bringing clinical services closer to where veterans live.