Design proposals for a permanent Veterans Affairs clinic were approved by the city council during its Dec. 6 meeting. The new outpatient clinic will be at the site of the old Mills House on the corner of East Memorial Drive and East Oglethorpe Highway.
Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission Executive Director Sonny Timmerman and Planning Director Rachel Hatcher said the VA submitted a footprint for the building, and the developers — SDA Inc. and Evans General Contracting — had to design the clinic within those parameters.
The Design Review Board included Timmerman, Hatcher, City Manager Billy Edwards, Paul Simonton with P.C. Simonton & Associates, OMI Director Gregg Higgins and Liberty County Chamber of Commerce CEO Leah Poole. Also participating were Hinesville Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Vicki Davis, Director of Inspections Steve Welborn, Assistant Zoning Administrator Gabriele Hartage, SDA Inc. Senior Vice President Marc Biagiotti and Ben Runkel with Evans General Contracting.
With the design approved, Timmerman said construction on the estimated 34,000-square-foot building should begin next month. According to a VA central office news release, construction could take up to two years.
Tonya Lobbestael, VA public affairs officer at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, said the VA will be leasing 25,540 square feet of “net-usable” space. She surmised the additional square footage included in the developer’s design probably includes the large 1 1/2-story open foyer as well as electrical storage closets. She added that a ground-breaking ceremony for the clinic will take place at 10 a.m., Jan. 14, 2013.
Hatcher said the new clinic will include ample parking spaces with an abundance of handicapped parking. The parking lot is designed with tree islands without curbing, which she said is part of the storm-mitigation system. The lack of curbing also will benefit older veterans with mobility limitations, she added.
“The new Liberty Transit schedule will include service to the new clinic,” said Hatcher, explaining that each transit bus is equipped with a wheelchair lift. “Ours is a route-deviation system, so they will take someone right to the front door, if necessary.”
She said this special accommodation is $2 per trip, rather than the usual $1 per trip. She said the larger buses have two handicapped spaces for disabled riders, while the transit van has four handicapped spaces. She wasn’t sure how the transit bus will enter and leave the new clinic.
Hatcher said as many as possible of the live oaks on the site will be spared. Some of the moss-covered oaks that remain will be along Oglethorpe Highway, but most will be in an area on the east side of the clinic that will be a public park with a picnic area, walking trails and a rehabilitation area.
She said project developers, Biagiotti and Runkel, were trying to achieve the “gold standard” for the Leaders in Energy and Environmental Design. A “silver standard” is required for the project, according to the lease agreement with the VA.
“For the developer to achieve the LEED silver standard, they had to design innovative drainage,” Hatcher explained, referring back to the tree islands without curbing. “The trees on these islands have to be capable of standing in water for long periods of time.”
She named several trees that would fit this requirement, including red maple and cypress. According to the design checklist, a canopy tree is required every 40 feet along Oglethorpe. Opaque fencing and landscaping will serve as a buffer between the clinic and residential property.
Parking lot lighting will be full cut-off lighting in accordance with LEED guidelines, she said. She said no lighting was proposed for the rehabilitation area and public park in order to discourage after-hours loitering. She wasn’t sure if security for the park would be provided by the VA or the Hinesville Police Department.
Once the VA clinic is complete, it will serve the medical needs of 12,000 local veterans.