Guest Opinion: New Veterans Memorial Building - consensus in action | July 3, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Perspective - July 3, 2009

Guest Opinion: New Veterans Memorial Building - consensus in action

by Joe Calabrigo, Danville Town Manager

For the past four years, our community has been planning to replace the Veterans Memorial Building in downtown Danville. Built in 1925, the building has exceeded its useful life and no longer adequately meets user needs. In addition to serving as the center for veterans' activities, the building is also home to many senior programs and activities offered by the Town.

The Town has worked closely on this project with the Veterans Memorial Building Development Committee of the San Ramon Valley, a dedicated and determined group who are committed to providing a new facility. Contra Costa County, who initially constructed the building and owned it up until 2008, has also been a partner in the process.

Considerable effort went into setting the stage for this project. In 2007, the veterans prepared a business plan that identified specific veterans' needs to be met in the new building. Their plan recommended that the new building be designed to accommodate senior and community use as well. The comprehensive Senior Needs Assessment completed by the Town in 2007 also addressed the need to improve facilities that could act as primary centers for senior activities.

Vacant developable land has become increasingly scarce and costly in Danville. After an unsuccessful search to locate a new site, consensus was reached to re-develop the current site at Hartz Avenue and East Prospect Avenue. In 2008, the Town acquired the site from the County and committed $5.2 million toward a project that would meet the needs of veterans, seniors and the community. Veterans are actively working to raise an additional $2 million needed to construct the new building.

Since November 2008, a Veterans Memorial Building Steering Committee has been developing plans that preserve the history of the site while meeting the broadest possible spectrum of user needs. No simple task. The Committee is made up of veterans, seniors and historical representatives, Town Commissioners and members of the Town Council. After selecting a project architect, the Committee held 12 public meetings culminated by approval of a plan on June 22.

Additional stakeholder meetings were held to provide as many opportunities as possible for the community to weigh in. Much public input was received and has helped to shape the building plans.

After undertaking an historic assessment of the site, the decision was made to retain the historic front portion of the building on Hartz Avenue. The rear portion of the building would be demolished and replaced with new construction that would face East Prospect Avenue, providing a "second front" to the building. Building size would be increased from 6,600 to 12,700 square feet.

The main entrance to the Veterans Memorial Building will continue to be on Hartz Avenue, with an additional veterans' entrance and a Senior Center entrance on East Prospect. The new building would be fully accessible, including an elevator to the upper floor. A plaza will be located along East Prospect, with a new flagpole and veterans monuments at the corner of Hartz and East Prospect.

The historic portion to be retained would be the tallest part of the "new building." Maximum height of the new construction would be just under 25 feet, less than most two-story homes in town. Weekdays, seniors would have use of most of the ground floor, about 6,000 square feet of space that can be programmed to meet a vast array of needs. Veterans would have dedicated use of the "Veterans Wing," as well as the main hall for special or large events.

At the conclusion of the process, after much deliberation, the Steering Committee determined that it was appropriate to remove the redwood and cedar trees on the site. This was a difficult decision. These trees were planted well after the existing building was completed and now completely obscure the building. This decision came down to concerns about potential instability and damage caused by the trees' root systems.

This open and transparent process has been consensus building in the truest sense - "general agreement - the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned." Many have attended meetings and have participated in designing the new building. Speakers at the final Steering Committee meeting lauded the work of the committee and the design of the new building.

While the Steering Committee has completed its work, the project must now move forward through the same design review and entitlement process required of any other project. Again, these will be public meetings - take the opportunity to get involved. In Danville, your voice is always welcome and heard as a part of developing appropriate solutions that meet the needs of the broadest segment of our community.