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Veterans Commission holds listening sessions on redesign

Three listening sessions concerning the remodeling of the Veterans Memorial Building in Central Park were held on Monday, Feb. 25. Plans regarding the future of the Veterans Memorial were discussed among community members and members of the Veterans Commission. The discussion sessions were hosted by the Commission as well as the two architects, Matt Coen and David Dahlquist, who represent RDG Planning and Design, which is designing the new building.

Basic updates on the remodel budget were introduced. The “bare bones” of the project are estimated to cost around $1.5 million, with the highest estimate reaching up to $3 million. In addition to the tax levy being implemented this coming April, plans for private fundraising and sponsorship to cover the remainder of the building’s cost were also listed as a means of funding. Sponsors include private grants, tuitions and space rentals once the building is complete.

Along with discussing financial plans, the purpose of the session was to engage in an honest discussion between the architects and community members about the role of the building within the community. Coen and Dahlquist said that the building could honor Grinnell veteran’s history, host an “artist in residency” program, serve as a community space and to compliment the surrounding park and community area.

In the past, the building was utilized as both a memorial and a community center where events ranging from small meetings to dances were held. Although the building will remain a community center, it will also be what was described by Coen as a “multipurpose space.”

The building will continue as a public space, but the artist-in-residency program has greatly extended its purpose, potentially opening Grinnell to artists around the country with a diverse set of mediums. The artist’s main focus  will center around honoring veterans.

When asked about his feelings about planning the remodel, Dahlquist responded that he felt it was “always important to listen,” and to “keep an open mind,” while planning projects like this. Despite concerns surrounding the building’s fate, he felt confident in RDG’s long-standing connection with Grinnell, including Central Park’s recent revamp that was also planned by RDG. He commented that given the building’s decade of closed-doors, this was “an opportunity to turn the lights on.”

Randy Hotchkin, co-owner of RJ’s barbershop and a member of the Veterans Commission, seemed confident in the future plans for the building. He said, “We’re in a really good place with the collaboration with the city and the veterans commission … [they are] all going in the same direction and on the same team.”

There were, however, hesitations on the part of other community members who attended the session. Many questions were asked surrounding the logistics of having an artist in residency. There were concerns about whether the artists would live within the memorial building, and how allowing the artists in residence to reside in the building could either potentially alter the flexibility of the interior to still serve as an open space for the community.

Attendees also raised about maintaining the building’s original purpose: to serve as a memorial for Grinnell veterans. Many who attended the session shared personal anecdotes of parents and other loved ones who were veterans and expressed their need for a place to honor them.

Adjustments and compromise are still occurring, especially with the design process of the building’s interior being described as a “blank slate” currently by Coen. In regards to the artist in residency program he felt that, “art changes neighborhood dynamics,” and “generates a lot of activity,” expressing a hopeful outlook for the future of the program.

Hotchkins said he “hopes people can accept this is the direction they’re going in,” and that they are “progressing into a different time.” The transformation of the veteran’s memorial building will certainly shift the Grinnell community, bringing in art and minds from around the country and potentially creating a space of collaboration for Grinnell residents, students and visiting artists.

Representatives of RDG Planning and Design spoke at listening sessions hosted by the Veterans Commission where community members could give their views. Photo by Elena Coppell.
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