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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
May 6, 2024
Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

After years of gridlock, progress finally made to restore Grinnell’s Veterans Memorial Building

Architecture firm RDG, which oversaw the Central Park renovations three years ago, has been hired to carry out the redesign of the Grinnell Veterans Memorial Building. Rendering contributed by

Last week, the Grinnell Veterans Memorial Building launched the first stage of its public fundraising campaign. Accompanied by the slogan “Create a New Calling,” the Veterans Memorial Commission hopes it can reach its nearly $2 million goal in the coming months.

With $550,000 already raised through pledged and received donations, officials think renovations can start once the $1 million mark is passed.

This is the first major development in the project to restore the Veterans Memorial Building since the city approved a tax levy in November 2017. Before that vote, the campaign to rehabilitate the Veterans Memorial Building, which was abandoned in 2010 due to the presence of asbestos, was in limbo. The narrowly approved legislation guaranteed $2 million over the course of the next 20 years, providing an annual allowance of $100,000 to cover maintenance and upkeep costs once the building is restored. With the adoption of the levy, the Commission has been able to forge ahead.

“We need to send a message to the community,” said Randy Hotchkin, vice-chair of the board and former Air Force master sergeant, “That tax levy vote, even though it was won by a small margin, gave us the go ahead to say ‘This is happening. We’re not going to look at another plan.’”

Over the course of the last year, the Veterans Memorial Commission has been slowly putting together a team to make sure their vision for the building is successfully implemented. The midwest-based architecture firm RDG, which oversaw the Central Park renovations three years ago, has been hired to carry out the redesign. Renderings of their plans are available on the Commission’s Facebook page.

Additionally, the Commission brought in the fundraising firm AMPERAGE, located in Cedar Falls, to help enhance their outreach and messaging. They’re behind the “Create a New Calling” slogan.

According to Hotchkin, the city of Grinnell is more committed to the project than it has been in previous years. On behalf of the Commission, the city has applied to the state of Iowa for a $400,000 Great Places grant, in the hopes of getting even closer to the $2 million goal.

“For people who think that the city is not on board with this project,” said Hotchkin, “or not on board with seeing this through, that should send a clear message that they’re behind it now.”

The Grinnell Veterans Memorial Building has been abandoned since 2010 due to the presence of asbestos. Photo by Kaya Matsuura.

The Commission is currently preparing to receive bids on the renovation contract. However, the process has been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic and recent derecho, the latter of which has caused construction materials to dramatically increase in price. As a result, the commission may have to delay the hiring of a contractor until materials become more affordable.

“If all these storms we’re having, [and] COVID, sets us back a year, that really shouldn’t be a shock to anyone,” said Hotchkin, “Those are some pretty major things, and for us to be pushing forward, with the team assembled … with the plan, and now we’re close to the execution, [is good].”

George Drake, former president of Grinnell College and honorary chair of the fundraising effort, thinks recent success can be put down to the artist residency program that is central to the Commission’s plans.

The proposal, put forward by Grinnell resident Tom Lacina, would turn the Veterans Memorial Building into the only artists residency operating primarily for veterans in the country. Along with hosting meeting and event spaces for the community, the plan would allow the building to house veterans for up to six weeks while they lived and worked in Grinnell.

“Not only would we memorialize veterans,” said Drake, “but we’d be really serving them in that way.” He continued, “Once you come forward with a specific use for the building, one that’s an attractive and appropriate use, people start getting on board.”

Despite years of gridlock and the many complications of 2020, those involved with the campaign are optimistic that the Veterans Memorial Building will be restored sooner, rather than later.

“I’m really pretty confident we’ll succeed,” said Drake, “[but] it’s not going to be easy.”

Donations can be made here.

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