'Teamwork' credited with site selection success

A press conference was held at Enterprise City Hall Jan. 6 to discuss the selection of Enterprise as the site of the state’s newest veterans home. Among those attending, in front, from left, are Enterprise Councilmen Eugene Goolsby and Turner Townsend, Retired Army Col. Sonny Moore, Navigator International VP of Government Services Bill Baker, Enterprise Mayor William Cooper and Enterprise Water Works Board Field Superintendent Alan Mahan. In back, from left, are Enterprise State Community College President Matt Rodgers, Enterprise Council President Perry Vickers, State Rep. Rhett Marques, Enterprise Interim Director of Public Works Shannon Roberts, Coffee County Administrator Rod Morgan, Coffee County Commission Chairman Dean Smith, Coffee County Commissioners Tom Grimsley, Jimmy Jones and Jim Thompson and Alabama Power Community Relations Manager Trent Dillard.

“Teamwork” was the common denominator cited for the selection of Enterprise as the home for the state’s newest veterans home.

At a press conference held Monday, Jan 6, in the Enterprise City Hall, Coffee County Commissioners and Enterprise City Councilmen were joined by other members of the team that worked to develop a proposal for the Veterans Administration Board to consider.

At the Alabama Board of Veterans Affairs meeting held Friday, Jan. 3, in Montgomery, 108 acres between Highway 84 and Highway 167 in Enterprise was unanimously chosen to be the location for the fifth state veterans home.

“This was a difficult selection process, as many communities submitted excellent proposals for the new veterans’ home,” said Chad Richmond, SBVA vice-chairman in announcing the board’s decision. “The committee team worked diligently and fairly through this process and I’m confident that our selection of Enterprise will provide the setting and care our veterans deserve.”

The decision by the State Board of Veterans Affairs to build a fifth veterans home came after a 2018 feasibility study commissioned by ADVA to determine the long-term health care needs of veterans in the state. The study determined that it should be in Southeast Alabama.

The official Request for Site Selection Proposals was distributed July 15, 2019 in Coffee, Dale, Barbour, Butler, Covington, Crenshaw, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Pike Counties. Most areas within those counties are beyond a 60-minute drive time from a state veterans home, the feasibility study found.

Coffee County was identified as having the largest veteran population projections in the Feasibility Study, while other counties show a reduction in veteran population. Enterprise has a workforce to support the home as well as medical services available to support the needs of the veterans, according to a news release from the SBVA board following the announcement of the City of Progress’ selection.

Plans are to build a single-story 182,000 square foot facility to provide skilled care for eligible veterans. Once at full capacity, the home is projected to employ approximately 250 and the projected annual payroll—based on the average of the existing four state veterans’ homes—is from $7.5 million to $8.75 million.

The RSSP sought a minimum of 27 acres of land to construct the $65 million 175-bed facility. The proposals received from municipalities and counties were evaluated in terms of factors, which included the size and location; transportation accessibility; workforce; specialized healthcare services within proximity of the site; and any additional relevant information.

The Veterans Homes Committee reviewed 12 site proposals submitted by jurisdictions in the Wiregrass Region. “We were among a group of well-qualified South Alabama cities and counties that submitted proposals for the VA home,” said Enterprise Mayor William Cooper at the press conference Jan. 6. “We recognize that each one of them could have easily been chosen. We are fortunate that we have a great team that put together an application that helped us showcase Enterprise and what a special community that we have.

“We are blessed to have such a large veteran population that has chosen Enterprise and Coffee County as their permanent home,” Cooper added. “Enterprise is a patriotic community with a veterans and military population that we welcome with open arms.”

Cooper thanked Wiregrass Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Jonathan Tullos and the city’s former Communications Director Jason Wright for putting the original proposal together. He also thanked Enterprise Councilman Turner Townsend, Coffee County Administrator Rod Morgan, Coffee County Commission Chairman Dean Smith, Navigator International Vice President of Government Services Bill Baker, retired Army Col. Rev. Sonny Moore, Enterprise State Community College President Matt Rodgers, Alabama Power Community Relations Manager Trent Dillard, Southeast Gas, Medical Center Enterprise, veterans and veteran organizations, State Rep. Rhett Marques, State Sen. Jimmy Holley, Whit Armstrong, City of Enterprise Interim Public Works Director Shannon Roberts and Enterprise Water Works Board Field Superintendent Alan Mahan for their participation in producing the successful proposal.

“This is a great day for Enterprise,” Cooper said. “We’ve been to the mountain top and looked over in the promised land and here we are.”

Townsend agreed. “This is a very exciting time for Enterprise and the entire Wiregrass area,” he said. “More importantly this is a huge win for our veteran population and their families.”

Townsend called the working relationship between the county and city elected officials, “a true partnership,” and said that “without their help none of this would have been possible.

“But this proposal would not have been possible without the foresight of the city council to begin the process two years ago to acquire the property that will eventually be the site of the new veterans’ home,” Townsend said. “We had no idea about this opportunity at the time but we knew we didn’t have a chance at projects of this kind without an available site. Simply put, we would not be standing here today if we had not sought this site and acquired it.”

Townsend said that questions about the incentive package that the city offered should be answered by the VA board. “Out of respect to the Veterans Administration Board we are not going to address specific questions about our proposal,” he said. “This is their project and we do not want to speak for them.”

Smith also had high praise for the collaboration between the county commission and the city council on the proposal. Two sites were proposed in Coffee County, Dean said. “We told the committee that we both would be happy with whatever site they chose.

“I was asked twice about whether the county and city were really working together on this proposal and I said, ‘That is exactly the way it is,’” the commission chairman added.

“I worked hard on the proposal with a bunch of good folks,” said Baker. “The county and the city gave me a whole lot to work with and when you have as much as what they put on the table, proposal writing is easy.”

“There is a synergy here, a love of people,” said Moore. “One thing I told the selection committee is that Enterprise will take care of these veterans.

“This is a military town and we will embrace these people and we’ll take care of them,” Moore said. “So I gave my word to the committee and I know we’ll do it.”

Council President Perry Vickers agreed. “I think Enterprise will give the veterans the care and love that they richly deserve,” he said. “Enterprise has always valued the presence of the soldiers stationed at Fort Rucker and the many veterans living in and near Enterprise,

“The city of Enterprise will embrace the veterans, provide them the best care possible and continue to give them all the honor and respect they so richly deserve,” Vickers said.

The Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs currently operates the Bill Nichols State Veterans Home in Alexander City, Tut Fann State Veterans Home in Huntsville, William F. Green State Veterans Home in Bay Minette and the Col. Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home in Pell City. They collectively provide care to 704 veterans with a staff of some 900.

The new veterans home should open by 2023 but Cooper said that no ground breaking date had been set at the time of the press conference.

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