November 22, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 47

Studley: Plans for veterans building taking shape

A design committee is being formed to plan the $6.2 million Soboleff-McRae Veterans Wellness Center at Second Avenue and Dalton Street, project leader Jim Studley told a Veterans Day crowd at the American Legion Nov. 11.

Studley, president of Haines Assisted Living, said the new structure would have features similar to the HAL building.

The new building’s size has not been determined but it will include 12 self-contained apartments upstairs and office or commercial space downstairs, Studley said.

Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC), which operates the Haines medical clinic, recently was offered 3,000 square feet of space there in exchange for paying utilities.

“The plan is to put in a wellness center,” Studley said, with services that would also serve veterans upstairs.

Because of the source of funds for the building, vacancies can’t be limited to veterans, but they will have a preference for rooms, Studley said.

Units not rented to veterans within the first year of operation will be opened up to the public. A veteran waiting to move into the building would automatically go to the top of the list, he said.

“We are using public funds so the criteria to allow only veterans is a little gray but we can put a length of time on it so that hopefully enough veterans come in that want to stay there and do so. Whether they do or not, I don’t know. But I’m hopeful that they will just because the number (of veterans) in Haines and in Southeast is staggering,” Studley said.

There are more than 365 veterans in Haines, according to research by the McDowell Group and the Juneau Economic Development Council, Studley said. Veterans of all ages and income levels will be eligible for an apartment, he said.

Studley said the building would include room for a veteran’s organization and there would also be a representative to help coordinate benefits.

“One of the things that we’ve guaranteed the (American) Legion, regardless of what happens, there will be an office space for a veteran’s organization in this building,” Studley said. “Coordinating the benefits of veterans is very important. Veterans have a tremendous amount of benefits that are due to them for their service. Coordinating them is a little difficult because veterans don’t always know what (benefits) are due to them.”

The center won’t offer medical care beyond what is available through the medical clinic or local doctors. The center’s goal is keeping its residents healthy enough to continue living in Haines, he said.

“What we’ve learned (at HAL) is if we can get our hands on you soon enough, we’ve found out we can keep you going relatively healthy a very long time. And then maybe this will be the last place you can stay and die instead of being shipped off to Fairbanks or Ketchikan. And that was the original goal we had,” Studley said.

Plans for the building include maximum energy efficiency, an elevator, views, and garages or carports, Studley said. He said a spot between the building and Haines Assisted Living would be “the perfect spot” for a veteran’s memorial.

The 13,000 square-foot HAL building is heated and powered solely with electricity and the monthly bill doesn’t exceed $3,600, Studley said. “That’s phenomenal. The trick we’ve learned is to build something very efficient. We know how to do that.”

The project will start with a request for qualifications and selection of a contractor. Design will follow and construction will start in 2013, he said.

It’s unlikely that a local contractor will be able to meet the project’s specifications, but resident workers and subcontractors may be able to get some of the work, he said.

Haines clinic administrator Marcia Scott said SEARHC was interested in Studley’s offer of space. The clinic is tentatively looking at expanding physical therapy services, she said. It also may be interested in an area for group health visits, nutrition classes and exercise, she said.