Site deemed 'unacceptable' for Bradley County veterans home

Arkansas-Ole Miss Live Blog

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - A major setback for the proposed multimillion-dollar Cleveland/Bradley State Veterans Home has left local officials shocked and seeking answers in the wake of Monday's Veterans Day commemorations.

The proposed site, a 30-acre tract on Westland Drive in South Cleveland, has been called "unacceptable" by state of Tennessee Real Estate and Asset Management, according to Yvette Martinez, assistant commissioner of outreach and communications for the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs.

According to a recent evaluation of the site, the property's slope is too high for the proposed single-story facility, which will not have optimal visibility from the road, Martinez said. Also, some soil may need to be removed or replaced.

Mark Hall, co-chairman of the Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home Council, said Bradley County is not giving up on the project.

"To say I'm stunned and disappointed is an understatement," he said. "We have 50,000 veterans in a 50-mile radius, and we do not have the luxury of quitting."

He said the proposed 108-bed veterans home was probably 12 to 18 months away from starting construction.

Hall said he had a problem with how the state communicated its concerns, with simply a phone call and no discussion on how to fix any of the problems cited with the property.

Larry McDaris, director of the Bradley County/Cleveland Veterans Service Office, said the news is "devastating."

"This came out of the blue and late in the game," he said.

More than $80,000 has been invested in site preparation work and environmental studies since state Veterans Affairs officials visited the property two years ago, McDaris said.

"We have to keep going, because six years ago we had nothing," Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said in a meeting with the Cleveland City Council.

McDaris said the proposed veterans home facility represents a $7 million local commitment. Bradley County and Cleveland each will contribute $2 million, and an anonymous private donor has committed $3 million.

A search is underway to find a better location, Martinez said. However, it's not going to take another 10 years, she said.

"What everyone wants to see is the best possible location and the best possible service to veterans," she said.

State officials are expected to address the Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home Council, which meets Thursday.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at [email protected]