After years of planning and construction, Clarksville can finally show off its very own veterans home.
The Brig. Gen. Wendell H. Gilbert Tennessee State Veterans Home, a 103,000-square-foot nursing facility, was officially unveiled Monday to a packed crowd. The crowd was so big that staff had set up an overflow room with audio and video of the ceremony.
Construction began on the home in May 2013, but planning for the home started long before. Serious discussions to build a home in Clarksville started in the early to mid-2000s. A site was proposed near Tiny Town Road but was later moved to its current location at 250 Arrowood Drive. Then came time to figure out the funding from state and local governments.
The city of Clarksville and Montgomery County each contributed $750,000 toward the veterans home, with the county donating the $475,000 Arrowood Drive site. The Department of Veterans Affairs contributed $14.6 million, and the state of Tennessee contributed $10.8 million, including $4.3 million in Gov. Bill Haslam’s fiscal year 2013-14 budget.
After funding was sorted out and construction wrapped up last year, the home’sopening was delayed while it passed inspections.
“That impatience was certainly understood,” said Many-Bears Grinder, Department of Veterans Services commissioner, on Monday. “But they (veterans) stuck with us through thick and thin, and as a result, here we are.”
To many the wait was worth it. The 108-bed facility is considered a state-of-the-art home. It features private rooms, new therapy equipment, industrial-size kitchens and other facilities, all while offering the comfortable feeling of a home and community.
Grinder said the facility’s design was one benefit of the wait. The home was built with the new federally mandated “cottage-style” floor plan, where nine separate homes are connected by hallways to make up the 108 rooms.
“The timing was just perfect,” Grinder said. “When it was time to design this building, the VA had implemented this new design.
“Instead of one big institutional-type building, these feel more like houses. Our veterans are going to feel like this truly is our home now.”
Tennessee’s first veterans home opened in 1991 in Murfreesboro. A second home was opened in 1996 in Humboldt, and a third opened in 2006 in Knoxville. However, Montgomery County, home to the state’s largest population of veterans and next to Fort Campbell, did not have a home.
Sydney R. Brown, a longtime Clarksville resident and Vietnam veteran who served with the 101st Airborne Division, has been a vocal advocate for the home for years. On Monday, after finally seeing the home open, he said it was “one of the best days of my life.”
“It’s been a long haul,” he said. “But we got it done.”
Clarksville’s veterans home will join some of the top-rated nursing facilities in the country, according to a 2015 U.S. News & World report.
The report ranked the state’s veterans homes as some of the top in the nation. It used data from more than 1,600 nursing homes around the country and awarded a five-star ranking to Tennessee’s first three homes.
“This shows the commitment of this community to get this done,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said after Monday’s ceremony. “It’s been more than 10 years since the planning on this building started, and it shows the commitment that Clarksville has to its veteran community.”
Wendell Gilbert, whom the home is named after, attended Monday’s ceremony and said it was about time Clarksville finally got such a facility. The former member of the 101st Airborne Division said he was happy to see it finally unveiled.
“It’s a great facility,” Gilbert said. “We have a large number of veterans in Montgomery County and it’s important to have this facility.”
The home also features Montgomery County’s longtime Doughboy statue. The statue, honoring the county’s World War I veterans, was first dedicated by the city of Clarksville in 1929. It was originally placed in front of Clarksville High School and later in front of the National Guard Armory and Clarksville Transit Station on Legion Street.
On two occasions, the statue was vandalized. Repairs had to be made to one of the statue’s hands and the rifle had to be replaced.
The statue was repaired for a second time before it was moved to the front of the veterans home where it will stay for the foreseeable future.
Room for expansion
In case administrators find a need to expand the Arrowood Drive facility, they’ve already purchased the land west of the facility.
“You always want to have room for expansion,” Grinder said. “This type of design, it’s very open to expansion because we just add another set of houses.”
Residents moved in last month, and at present the home has just four private-pay residents. The staggered opening of the facility will allow for the staff to get a feel for its operations and work out any kinks, said Ed Harries, executive director for Tennessee State Veterans’ Home.
“We deal with veterans and we deal with lives,” he said in December. “We don’t want errors.”
Once the home passes an inspection from the VA in the coming months, it can start to let in more residents.
Haslam said there are about 250,000 veterans in the state nearing retirement age. The option of the state veterans home might not work for all veterans, he said, but for many it can be a viable option.
“We have a large percent of our veteran population that is nearing retirement age, and that shows the need we have for facilities like this,” Haslam said. “This isn’t the answer for every veteran, but for some veterans, this can be the very best answer for a living situation in the later years of life.”
The governor said Monday he doesn’t see any shortage for those wanting to live at the Clarksville location.
“I’m not worried about there being enough demand for rooms here,” Haslam said.
For more admission questions, interested residents can call admissions coordinator Tanishia Layne at 931-245-4700, ext. 4559, or visit tsvh.org. Veterans can also find out if they are eligible by going to tsvh.org/eligible.html.