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Veterans Memorial Building faces demolition after failed renovation plan

Evan Hein
A sign in front of the vacant Grinnell Veterans Memorial Building on the intersection of 4th Ave. and Broad Street. Originally advertising the fundraising campaign for an artist residency program for veterans, the project has since been abandoned for a memorial instead.

The Grinnell Veterans Memorial Building sits vacant at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Broad Street as plans for renovation have been reevaluated due to insufficient funds. Later today, Monday Sept. 18, the Veterans Memorial Commission will vote to forgo their initial proposal to instead demolish the structure with the intention of building a monument in its place. 

A combination of high-cost construction bids, state-level tax law changes and expiring grants created a gap between the money raised and the money necessary to complete the project, according to current members of the commission. 

The project officially began on Jan. 16, 2017, when Tom Lacina, Grinnell resident and advisor to the Veterans Memorial Commission, presented an idea to the commission to renovate the empty building in part to be used as a space for a veteran artists residency program. The purpose of the program, according to Lacina, was to support veteran artists in the greater area and allow them to share their work with the Grinnell community.

There was a big conflict between the city and the veterans community on what to do with the building.

— Dr. Teresa Coon

Now, the commission is considering a new plan in light of financial obstacles. If the vote later today passes amongst the five members of the commission, they will bring their plans for demolition to the city council for approval in October. The design of the monument to replace the building will be considered after this decision about demolition is made, according to Lacina. 

The original memorial building was built shortly after World War II, but closed in May of 2010, when asbestos was discovered. According to Mayor Dan Agnew, the city spent around half a million dollars to remove the asbestos and redo the water lines in the building around this time. While some money to renovate the structure was raised following this, said Lacina, it was not until his proposal was approved in 2017 that serious efforts were made to fundraise.

“There was a big conflict between the city and the veterans community on what to do with the building,” said Dr. Teresa Coon, former U.S. Air Force physician and current chair of the Veterans Memorial Commission. “The city initially wanted to tear it down but there was opposition to that and a lot of thoughts were bandied about. Then, Tom Lacina came up with the idea of maybe having it become an artists residency.”

The commission hired an architecture firm to create a design which was evaluated at the time to have a construction cost of roughly $2 million.

Randall Hotchkin, retired master sergeant of the U.S. Air Force and vice-chair of the Veterans Memorial Commission, said that this $2 million was successfully raised, but that the commission was blindsided by the effects of COVID on the economy. According to Hotchkin, when construction bids came back at around $5 million dollars in the spring of 2022, it quickly became clear the the money they had raised would be insufficient.

“What’s really disappointing is that we succeeded,” said Hotchkin. “Our idea got us to our goal and that goal should have funded the building we designed, but COVID happened.”

In addition to soaring construction costs, around $650,000 of that fundraised amount came from grants which had to be used within a certain time frame. The Enhance Iowa Grant and the Iowa Great Places Grant, both of which come from the state of Iowa, must be used around two years after being received. According to Lacina, deadlines have passed for both grants and the project no longer has that money at its disposal. 

What’s really disappointing is that we succeeded … but COVID happened.

— Randall Hotchkin

A maintenance tax levy granted by the city was intended to serve as an additional source of funding for the project. However, hopes of using it ended up fading after that specific type of levy was struck from use by the Iowa House, effective beginning July 1, 2024.

With major sources of funding gone, only a little over half a million in donations remain according to Lacina and Hotchkin. They said that the commission hopes to still use the existing donation money to transform that corner of the park. Both noted that the change in direction is not ideal, but necessary as a result of the obstacles they have encountered.

“If somebody wanted to show up with $5 million to make it happen, I think they [the commission] would still renovate the building,” said Lacina. “We’ve just exhausted the avenues in our best estimation.”

While no architects have been consulted on a new design as of yet, Coon said that they want to settle on a design shortly after getting approval from City Council and hope to begin constructing the monument within the next few years. 

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About the Contributors
Eleanor Corbin
Eleanor Corbin, Editor in Chief
Eleanor is a fourth-year political science major with a concentration in statistics. Nine out of ten times she is ready and willing to discuss embroidery, types of loose-leaf tea, and metal music. Best approached with her favorite candy, cherry Twizzler bites, in hand.
Evan Hein, Staff Photographer
Evan is a second-year psychology major from Kansas City, Kansas. He once had to ask his friends to describe him in one word for a psych project. 33% of the twenty-five descriptive responses were the word “ginger,” followed by a small chortle.
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