Tuskegee may ease hardships suffered by homeless and elderly veterans who defended this country with military service. But this community is at the starting point of a long process.
Renovate or tear down?
Answer that and you’re still confronted with a flood of other questions concerning abandoned buildings at the VA hospital in Tuskegee. Though the vacant properties face an uncertain future, the hospital occupies a revered chapter in history.
Built on land donated by Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), the facility has been an important part of this community since its inception in 1923. Established as a hospital for African-American veterans of World War I, it is a tale of conflicting priorities for the federal government.
On one hand the government agreed that black veterans deserved medical attention. On the other hand government thinking was clouded by racial prejudice. Officials planned to open the hospital with a staff of all white doctors and nurses. Each white nurse would be assigned a black female helper to ensure that black patients were not touched by white women.
At the same time, African-Americans wanted the hospital to be a place where black doctors and nurses could get professional jobs. Dr. Robert Russa Moton, president of Tuskegee Institute, appealed directly to Republican President Warren G. Harding who eventually committed to a position that reserved jobs at the hospital for black personnel.
VA related doctors, nurses and other medical professionals helped to sustain the middle-class in Tuskegee for many years and memories of this golden time still linger. So, it’s no wonder that the local community felt it was a kick in the gut when the Tuskegee VA hospital became the “East Campus” of a consolidation called the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS), headquartered in Montgomery.
Today, the hospital is still a sprawling campus but many of the buildings are closed. Community leaders are concerned about the fate of those defunct structures.
Dr. Linda Boyle, Director of CAVHCS, invited members of the Tuskegee community to a presentation on October 5, 2017 by Jim Lavery, Washington DC based, Asset and Real Estate Portfolio Manager, Office of Asset Enterprise Management with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
He talked about housing veterans who are elderly or homeless on the East Campus, more familiar to local residents as Tuskegee Veterans Hospital. His presentation touched on several options including gutting and renovating existing unused buildings or demolishing those same buildings to be followed by newly constructed housing units.
He said developers may be mandated to design facades to respect the character of the original architecture.
The buildings that are potentially available for re-development are Building #62 and Building #69.
You can hear Lavery talk about the process in the video embedded in this blog post. Scroll down this page to find it.
Those who attended the presentation heard him speak in blunt and forthright terms about eligibility requirements for organizations or companies that may want to rehab the buildings. He emphasized the following:
- An entity must be properly incorporated and meet all of the State of Alabama legal requirements
- An entity must prove financial capacity
- Finances must assure demolition and construction along with operation of the project
- Opportunity is open to private developers and non-profit organizations
- Entity must have a successful track record of similar work
- Developer must accommodate housing for homeless and/or elderly veterans
- It was repeatedly emphasized that the scope involves “Build, Own and Operate”
- Operation includes support services
- Support may include job training, financial management assistance and other life-enhancing programs
- Developers may work with external organizations to provide support services
- Deal involves an arrangement whereby the developer gets up to a 75 year lease
- VA continues to own the land
- VA participates up front with environmental assessments
- Since this is an historic campus, state preservationists must be consulted
- Asbestos and lead remediation may be an issue
- Look for a Request for Expression of Interest at FedBizOpps.gov https://www.fbo.gov
- A series of other actions are part of the preliminary phase including a public hearing
Valley Brook Village in Lyons, New Jersey is a great example of a successful conversion from abandoned property to veteran housing, to see for yourself, view the images below.
For more on this incredible transformation, click here.
For more information about underutilized real estate owned by the federal government under the Veterans Affairs Department, click here https://www.va.gov/assetmanagement/
In case you want a booklet to copy and share, you can download a report by clicking on this link: https://www.va.gov/assetmanagement/docs/newsletterEulProgram201606.PDF