The Vets’ Home

Last November, residents of the New York State Veterans’ Home in Oxford moved from the 1970s era building they’d called home for nearly four decades, into the newly-constructed 220,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility next door. Since that moment, when the last resident was tucked into their new room, the “old” Vets’ Home has had a wrecking ball looming over its proverbial head.

Of course, the specter of demolition has been looming for much longer than that. It was, apparently, always part of the state’s plan. They went through the motions, of course, scratching the surface of alternative uses. But the reality is, that from the moment the first site plan was drawn up, they had always intended to demolish the structure. Or at least that’s what I was told by Karen Cally, health program administrator from the New York State Department of Health.

For as long as New York State has been planning to tear it down, a small group of dedicated community members – like Oxford Mayor Terry Stark, Dave Emerson and Commerce Chenango President Maureen Carpenter – have been fighting for its preservation. Not because of any historical significance, per se, but out of a desire to see the building repurposed and productive, rather than become yet another symbol of the wastefulness of our increasingly disposable society.

They identified several potential uses for the building. One idea – that of creating a rehabilitation and job-skills training center for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan at the location – seemed the most promising. Unfortunately, there were questions about the credibility of the individual who presented the idea, which soured the project. Other ideas have floated too, but none garnering enough support on the state level to make them fly.

There was a general perception, I think, that there was time to further investigate options for the facility. The general consensus being that as long as New York’s financial situation remained dire, and no state budget in sight, that there wasn’t money to demolish the structure.

But on Monday, we learned that wasn’t the case. Money had been found, and the bidding process had begun.

The announcement prompted a new wave of public outcry. Both from proponents of saving the structure, and those calling for its demolition. As well as those saying the new building should never have been constructed.

I don’t begrudge the New York State Veterans’ Home in Oxford their new facility. They deserve the best of all things, these men and women who have given so much of themselves to protect this country and preserve the freedom it was founded upon. We all owe them a debt of thanks far greater than the price tag of the 220,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility they now call home.

But it is how it all came about that makes me shake my head. No one will deny there were problems with the old facility, but I have to laugh when someone recently suggested to me that the decision was made to build new because the old was too expensive to fix.

Somehow I doubt installing sprinklers and whatever other upgrades were required would have cost a cool $65 million, which is what the capital project cost federal and state taxpayers.

Of course, in order to obtain the federal funding for the new facility, New York had to convince them it was needed. Speaking off the record, I’ve had conversations with more than one Albany insider who claims to know the reason the state has nixed every proposed alternative use for the old building. Because if they did endorse continued use of the structure, they’d be forced to admit it wasn’t, in fact, unfit after all. And heaven forbid they have to pay the federal government back.

It is, of course, this flawed logic which has put our state, and our great nation, in its current situation. For there is no greater example of bureaucratic inefficiency and government wastefulness than the impending fate of the “old” Vets’ Home.

And that, I’m afraid, is something a wrecking ball won’t fix.

Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunmelissa.

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