Hampton, Fort Monroe contend for veterans care center

State officials planning to build a veterans care center employing upward of 500 people are eyeing just two locations for the project: Fort Monroe and a former state school for disabled pupils.

While lobbying for former Virginia School property, Hampton officials have also actively dissuaded the state Department of Veterans Services from considering Fort Monroe as a site for the 25-acre facility, according to documents obtained by the Daily Press through the Freedom of Information Act.

Fort Monroe officials believe the former military post would be an ideal campus for veterans and the medical personnel treating them. City officials, however, contend Fort Monroe is not a site for medical patients because strong storms could flood the property and cut off evacuation routes.

A state Department of Veterans Services commissioner, however, said many of the city's criticisms are unfounded.

The Virginia Department of Veterans Services announced last April plans to build the veterans facility in Hampton Roads — citing the area's growing military population — and asked that sites be submitted for it to review.

This year, the state committed $37 million toward the center that would treat elderly and infirmed veterans. Federal funds would also be needed for the project.

"These are high-paying jobs at a state-of-the-art care facility for veterans that are maybe there for long-term care or recovering from a hospital stay," Bruce Sturk, Hampton director of federal facilities, said last week. "Hampton is a city that is very welcoming and is very veteran friendly."

A state Department of Veterans Services spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday it received a request from the Fort Monroe Authority to evaluate a swath of land along Stillwell Drive in the North Gate area, and from the city of Hampton to evaluate the former Virginia School for the Deaf, Blind and Multi-disabled off Shell Road.

Poquoson City Manager Randy Wheeler said the city had conversations with the state about the project and the potential to locate the care center in Poquoson. Poquoson, however, did not have a site that met the state's criteria, he said.

The existing Hampton VA Medical Center campus is not being considered for the project, although state Veterans Service Department officials have said the new facility should be located close to the VA Medical Center.

The state is expected to announce its decision in mid-November.

City concerns

Documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act outline the city's concerns with building a veterans care center at Fort Monroe.

City Manager Mary Bunting, Police Chief Charles "Chuck" Jordan, Fire Chief David Layman, and Emergency Services Coordinator Hui-Shan Walker, all penned letters contending:

•Fort Monroe can flood in severe weather

•Evacuating 240 people from the Fort Monroe peninsula would be difficult

•Fort Monroe's strict design standards would increase construction costs

The city included an elevation contour map and flood insurance rate map of Fort Monroe in its correspondence submitted to the state.

"Indeed, if this facility is built at Fort Monroe and should a major storm erupt, those residing at the facility would be put at high risk for potential injuries if not casualties," Jordan wrote. "Evacuations would be required which would be another factor that could compromise the residents' safety because of the existence of only one main entrance to and from the island."

Sturk echoed those concerns Thursday, although he said he didn't know Fort Monroe officials submitted sites for review until told by the Daily Press.