Caldwell veterans transform an architectural treasure to serve treasured Americans

Larry Kelly, a Navy veteran who served in the Korean War, holds a flag that will fly from the century-old flagpole at the Caldwell Veterans Memorial Hall.
Larry Kelly, a Navy veteran who served in the Korean War, holds a flag that will fly from the century-old flagpole at the Caldwell Veterans Memorial Hall. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

The old brick building on Cleveland Boulevard in Caldwell always served a civic purpose. It was a city library, one of hundreds built by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie in the early 1900s.

The building is now getting a new, expanded life as a much-needed center to serve some needs of the approximately 16,000 veterans in Canyon County.

Terry Harrell, chairman of the Caldwell Veterans’ Council, said he believes the center will attract closer to 25,000 veterans — including those from Malheur, Payette, Owyhee, Washington and Gem counties who currently have to travel to Boise for services at the VA. If you add veterans’ family members, said Harrell, the number rises to about 60,000.

Sometimes, having to travel to Boise keeps veterans from receiving services at all, especially those with eyesight issues or who don’t have a full day to spend on the road. If the veterans are able to raise the money they need, some of that will change in 2017, when the building opens its doors as the Caldwell Veterans Memorial Hall. The hall will offer job and counseling services, and public spaces for other programs and events.

The unique thing about the hall, Harrell said, is that it will be run “by veterans, for veterans, and we’ll always manage and control it.” That sets it apart from state or federal programs for veterans, he said.

Harrell, a U.S. Army and Army National Guard veteran who served with the 116th in Iraq between 2004-2005, told the Idaho Statesman more about plans for the building.

Q: What local veterans groups are involved in the project?

A: The Disabled American Veterans, the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Coast Guard Auxiliary, the Marine Corps League and the Military Order of the Purple Heart are the groups we’ve been working with. But if you’re a veterans organization, we have our doors open. When veterans groups need space, we’ll find a way.

Q: How did the Caldwell Veterans’ Council get the building?

A: The building was the city library from 1914 to 1973. Then it became the Caldwell School District office until 2009. It was vacant until 2013, until the city bought it. In July of 2013, the mayor asked me if we’d be interested in making it a permanent place for veterans. Veterans groups had been meeting at the train depot, they really didn’t have a good place. So when the city offered us a 100-year lease for $1 a year, how could we say no? We put the paperwork together and got a plan. We put together a board of veterans from organizations in the west end of the Valley. They went out and started coordinating and fundraising.

Q: What’s the renovation costing?

A: We are trying to raise around $725,000 to cover electrical, plumbing, windows, heating and air. That also includes $350,000 for an ADA-compliant elevator. We’ve applied for grants and have gotten $10,000 grants from both the Canyon County Historical Society and the Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation. We’re working on projects as the funding comes through. When we get money, we line up volunteers to do the construction so all the money can go for materials.

Q: What’s the veterans community like in Canyon County?

A: We still have veterans alive from World War II who served throughout the Pacific and Europe. We have veterans from the Korean and Vietnam wars, Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s an amazing population of veterans. We have over 1,500 disabled female veterans in this area. That blew me away.

Q: What specific changes are taking place in the building?

A: A big structural change is that we removed the portico from the front of the building. It wasn’t original to the building and it was a safety hazard. We sealed the foundation and set up a storm drain so all the water will go into seepage beds. It’s efficient. The building has a new roof. We’ll keep the original 13-foot ceilings. We’ll restore the wood floor upstairs and install period-correct lighting in the main lobby. It will be better than the original. When it was a library, rows of books hid the beauty of the building. Now, it will showcase the original design. Downstairs we’ll have a kitchen and dining room, storage, two huge restrooms. We’ll make good use of every square inch.

Q: What services will the building house?

A: Counseling offices, a clinic, a parking area. And we’re located right next to the transit center so veterans can get to Boise easily if they need to.

We’ll have a community room with 27 computer workstations so veterans can do job searches, work on their resumes. We’ll have available spaces so that if a college or university wants to do a program for veterans, we can schedule it. Now, the veterans center offers free counseling, but that’s only available in Boise. I talked to the representative there and once we open our doors, they’re thinking of having a full-time counselor here. The Idaho Division of Veterans Service has also said they’re interested in placing a full-time service officer here who could do home loans, help veterans with disability claims and help veterans’ spouses get death benefits.

Q: How will you keep the building and its programs running?

A: The Caldwell Veterans’ Council has applied for its nonprofit status and we’re charged with being the governing agency to maintain the building. We’ll do the fundraising. When the doors are open we’ll rent the facility out for weddings, family reunions. We’ll have a main room upstairs that can seat 150, a dining room that can seat 65 and a barbecue area out back that will seat 70.

We’ve designed the building to be able to rent to be self-sustaining.

Q: How are the renovations going?

A: The project is moving at the speed of donations. We’re using a lot of volunteer help and services and donated materials.

Q: Are you still raising money?

A: We have a GoFundMe account set up to pay for a new elevator. That’s our largest expenditure. The thing is, without it, we can’t meet ADA requirements.

Q: Do you need volunteers?

A: We can use carpenters, electricians, plumbers, HVAC guys. Anybody with any skills or with no skills can come learn and run power tools. We’re usually there Monday through Friday, working on the building.

You can help

The veterans have set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise $350,000 for a new ADA-compliant elevator for the Caldwell Veterans Hall. Click here to visit that page.

To donate or volunteer, call Terry Harrell at 208-899-5216 or visit cvmh-vets.org to learn more about the Caldwell Veterans’ Council.