Community gets glimpse of preliminary designs for proposed Preston Veterans Home

The preliminary design of the veterans home includes three wings of 18 rooms in each, creating a more home-like space for residents. MELISSA VANDER PLAS/NEWS LEADER

Doug Hughes from the Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs joined designers and architects last Thursday in Preston to discuss the plans for the proposed Preston veterans home. MELISSA VANDER PLAS/NEWS LEADER
By : 
Melissa Vander Plas
Bluff Country Newspaper Group

Area veterans, family members and citizens of Fillmore County gathered at the Preston Serviceman’s Club last Thursday, Dec. 6, to learn a little bit more about the future Preston veterans home. Preliminary design plans were shared as well as a probable time line for the project. Officials from the Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs and architects and designers from the firms of Wold Architects and Engineering and Perkins Eastman explained the elements of the design and the reasons certain concepts are being developed.

Doug Hughes, Deputy Commissioner of Healthcare for the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, addressed the crowd and complimented all for their fundraising efforts and support for the veterans home project.

“Today represents forward thinking,” he said. “I want to thank all the veterans in the room. Many have served to make this Preston home a reality, but there’s still work to be done.”

According to Sara Malin of Wold Architects and Engineering, the preliminary timeline includes wrapping up the predesign phase by Jan. 10, 2019. The schematic plan and federal grant application need to be submitted by April 15. The design firms will then work on more design and engineering elements so they can advertise for bids by August 2019.

“We expect to break ground about a year from now,” she said.

Construction of the 54-bed home would take a little over a year with the facility expected to open for residents by May of 2021.

Hughes explained a priority of design is to make the facility comfortable for its residents, with three wings of 18 rooms each, creating a smaller, home-like feel. Each resident will have his or her own room with a private bath.

The common areas, such as dining room, gathering rooms and public areas will be located in the center of the facility, with each wing extending off that area.

Because the site of the veterans home is located on a bluff, surrounded by beautiful trees, elements of wood and stone will be incorporated into the overall design of the building. Hughes described the exterior as having a lodge feel to it, mirroring not only the aesthetics of the area, but also making it comfortable for a primarily masculine population.

Tu-Anh Johnson, a designer on the project, noted that she envisions a home with a rustic feel, with lots of wood and stone, decorated in earthy colors.

“This is a state home, so we use materials that will last a long time,” she added.

Décor will include military memorabilia and features of the surrounding area. Johnson also said there will be a lot of large windows to draw in the daylight and furnishings will be elegant, but appropriate for a predominately male population.

Hughes explained that a veterans home, compared to a traditional care facility, has a much higher male population. The potential residents are also more likely to have dementia or “invisible wounds” such as post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries.

Because care facilities are seeing an increase in memory care patients, this home will include accommodations for changes in a patient’s rhythms and patterns – providing space for quiet, opportunities to walk and providing a secure and safe area to make sure patients are safe.

Architects and designers took turn presenting information about the new home, highlighting plans for a resident-centered living facility. These features included creating the feeling of a home, using calming and comfortable materials, including carpet or wood flooring. The facility would be operated on a resident’s schedule rather than a staff schedule – meaning residents can bathe when they want, eat when they want and schedule activities based on their wants and needs.

Communal areas, such as the kitchen, become the center of the homes and integrating space where family and pets can visit is an important part of creating a place that is comfortable and satisfying for the residents.

“Each house of this building brings life,” said Jerry Walleck of Perkins Eastman. “There is a nursing area, common living areas in each wing. It is institutional, but we try to make it as residential as possible.”

Malin noted that the goal is to make the Preston home unique to the community, celebrating the city’s greatest assets – the veterans cemetery, a strong agricultural presence, recreational opportunities and beautiful views. “There will be a good quality of life for those who will live here,” she stated.

Walleck reiterated that point, “We build to the communities, so everything is customized for what the residents are comfortable with.”

The site design was also explained, including the goal to make the most of the views and exposure of the site. The design team is also working to celebrate the veterans home’s presence by creating a formal entrance that would mirror the grand processional entrance of the veterans cemetery. The site would have its own entrance off Highway 16.

While the exact location of the building on the site has not yet been determined, it may be located on the eastern edge, allowing residents to overlook Highway 52 and for those traveling the highway to see the facility on top of the bluff.

The grounds may also include flag courts, pavilions, raised gardens, plazas, outdoor courtyards and a welcoming entrance. It was noted that the outdoor spaces would not only be for the residents to enjoy, but would also be open to staff and visitors as well.

“This is still early in the process,” said Walleck. “This is a snapshot in time, but it is all evolving. It is a really beautiful site with beautiful long views.”

During the question and answer portion of the meeting, it was noted the home will not only serve veterans, but qualifying spouses and Gold Star parents. However, criteria for admission is based on state statute and veterans may be given priority based on need.

While the exact scope of economic impact is not yet known, Hughes stated the facility is expected to provide jobs to 110 to 120 individuals, both part-time and full-time opportunities. He also pointed out that these jobs are state jobs, so wages and benefits are “second to none.”

Perhaps the most important question was why the Preston home was reduced to a 54-bed home rather than a 72-bed home as was first proposed. Hughes explained that it did come down to money, and a formula splitting the state’s allotted funds with two other proposed facilities in Minnesota, Montevideo and Bemidji.

Preston raised $1,065,000 in local donations with a state contribution of $10.2 million. A $22.5 million match from the federal government, if approved, will create a $32 million budget for the home. This budget supports a smaller home, but not the 72-bed facility. At least $40 million would have been needed for the larger home.

When one veteran asked for more time to raise funds, Hughes responded that the application to the federal government is going to be due soon and it is in the community’s best interest to keep the momentum of this project going forward.

“We believe this is the best time for Minnesota to apply for these funds,” Hughes added. You are going to have a very excellent 54-bed facility on a beautiful site overlooking Preston and you need to be proud of your leaders and your community’s other organizers.”