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Veterans Commission gains member, moves ahead with fundraising

The Veterans Memorial Commission will contract with Amperage to conduct a study of the feasibility of raising $3 million for the renovation of the Veteran Memorial in Central Park. Photo by Helena Gruensteidl.
The Veterans Memorial Commission will contract with Amperage to conduct a study of the feasibility of raising $3 million for the renovation of the Veteran Memorial in Central Park. Photo by Helena Gruensteidl.

The Grinnell Veterans Memorial Commission has a new member, Randall Hotchkin, who has been vying for a seat on the commission for almost two years and was appointed by the City Council on Feb. 5. Then, on Feb. 19, the City Council unanimously approved the hiring of Amperage, an Iowa-based fundraising company, by the commission. The Veterans Memorial Building, located in Grinnell’s Central Park, may now finally be moving towards renovation.

Once the contract with Amperage is finalized, the group will begin conducting a feasibility study, which will help the commission determine whether raising $3 million for the renovation of the Veteran Memorial is a viable option.

According to Leo Lease, chair of the Veterans Memorial Commission, the study will cost about $24,300, and will be financed with the fruits of previous commission fundraising efforts. Though voters did approve a tax levy to generate about $125,000 per year for the operation of the memorial beginning in April 2019, the building, which has been plagued by a host of issues for several years, still needs to undergo serious renovation. Thus, the $3 million needed for renovations is separate from the tax levy passed in November.

“[The tax levy] was for support and management of that building. It has to do with an ultimate goal of an appropriate veterans memorial. … What that will look like in the future will depend on a lot of things, mostly money,” Lease said. “The support of the program in the future will not be nearly as expensive as the refurbishing of the building to do it right, and so that’s where the private funds come in.”

“None of us are professional fundraisers,” Hotchkin said, and the commission is hopeful that contracting with Amperage will be worth the investment.

“[The feasibility study will] be definitive, and it’s something we need to know — whether or not this is something reasonable to proceed with and put all the time and effort in to make it work. It’s definitely a worthwhile goal with regards to the veterans’ memorial and to drawing the community together,” Lease said.

If the study indicates feasibility, Amperage will begin reaching out to donors nationwide.

Both Lease and Hotchkin expressed excitement about the prospect of a potential artist residency program, which would see funding and space provided for one artist at the veterans memorial. The plan, which is included in the $3 million renovation, was proposed by Tom Lacina in January 2017. The artist residency program is seen as a way to draw donors, veterans and community members to the new space.

“If we become known for the [artist residency], people might come here, and they might stay in our hotels. … There are a lot of things that can make a city more vibrant, and hopefully this will be a piece of that,” Hotchkin said.

Whether it be through murals, sculptures, music or plays, the residency will help revitalize the veterans memorial and Central Park. Hotchkin also hopes that veterans themselves apply for the residency and that there may be a possibility of holding art therapy classes for veterans. “If enough veterans apply, it will be more of a veterans’ function than [the building] has ever held in the past,” he said.

Despite these optimistic hopes, much remains in the years-long saga of the Grinnell’s veterans memorial.

“There’s a lot of work to get done, but hopefully it keeps going in this direction. … It’s all a slow process, and it might be too slow for some people, because it’s already been sitting there as kind of an eyesore for a long time but we’re making every effort we can,” Hotchkin said.

“If people have questions, we need to encourage people to participate. This is something that has a lot of definite positive outcomes for the community,” said Lease. “[We want people to] understand how it works and where the money comes from, and get rid of some previous opinions about what’s going on — those may be in error. We want to get those [questions] answered.”

The Veterans Memorial Commission meets on the second Monday of every month, and the public is encouraged to attend and participate.

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