What is to become of the old Veterans' Home?
This Fall the new veterans’ home will open in Bristol. The 2016 referendum added another $27 million to the $94 million approved in 2012 for a total cost of $121 million. Initially, the bond referendum recited that the proceeds would be used to build a 225 bed facility (now scaled down to 208 beds) along with funds to renovate the original facility in order to turn it into a space for veteran’s spouses, a veterans recreation area, and provide a home for homeless veterans. Additionally, the referendum promised a 75 bed assisted living facility for veterans.
Certainly, the price for the new construction was boosted by new guidelines from the federal government. Yet, questions need to be answered on the present project. What funds were allocated to the demands required by the federal government as opposed to the jacking up of the price, if any, by the contractors and Gilbane? Secondly, what happened to the assisted living and renovation portions of the bond for the uses stated in the referendum? It appears that all the money is going solely to the construction and demolition of the existing home. At least 2 studies were done that supported the renovation of the so-called North and South building. No contrary “report” has been made public. State money recently was poured into making a wonderful recreational spot with garden views, a $500,000 paint job, etc. It seems awfully wasteful to now demolish the original building without a careful vetting of all the alleged studies performed. As of April 25, Gilbane’s website still lists a 20,000 foot renovation project on the present home.
While, no doubt, some areas may not be suited for living quarters, where are the studies which were the basis for the renovation “ask” in the referendum bonds? My concern is that these were needs that lured voters to give the approval for the project, yet seem to have been tossed aside. I just don’t like government luring people with promises and then unilaterally dismissing voters' reasons for the support. Query whether the assisted living facility, spouses' residence, a place for homeless veterans, etc. have been jettisoned because of uncontrolled cost run-ups which are being covered up?
The veterans deserve nothing but the best, but an audit should ensue as to why the facility cut beds yet costs nonetheless rose so dramatically that the other two-thirds of the original reasons for the bond are scrapped.
Before the bulldozers erase the “evidence” of what could be done with perfectly good sections of the existing home doesn’t the public deserve an explanation? Perhaps a private company might want to purchase the present building since the rooms each have a toilet facility and sink with communal showers (not unlike a lot of nursing homes) and the state could sell it.
In the happiness of giving veterans a fine home the public should not lose sight of demanding accountability as to how the money was spent and what happened to the other projects that led voters to support the referendums.
It’s time for answers before the original home is demolished. Join me in demanding an audit now and for release of all studies that supported the original referendum proposals and any rebuttal of the promised renovations.
Arlene Violet is an attorney and former Rhode Island Attorney General.