SHIAWASSEE COUNTY VETERANS AFFAIRS is planning to move into a portion of the former Griffin Home building on N. Shiawassee Street, possibly before the end of the year. The building is county-owned, but renovations and a remodel are needed.
(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)
Following the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners approval in December, the Veterans Affairs Committee hired Creekwood Architecture, Inc. out of Burton to render plans for the move of veterans services to the former Griffin Home building, which is county owned, on N. Shiawassee Street. Veterans Affairs currently occupies third-floor office space in the Surbeck Building in downtown Corunna – and the situation has been described as cramped by Commissioner Cindy Garber (R-Dist. 6), who also serves on the Veterans Affairs Committee. Other committee members have made similar comments in recent months, including VA Director Mike Reeve. Garber and the Veterans Affairs Committee are pleased to have the opportunity for the move and expansion in order to better serve county veterans.
The third-floor site also adds other obstacles for veterans, particularly veterans dealing with disabilities or senior veterans. The Surbeck Building does offer an elevator, though it is small. Parking is another complication, since parking behind the Surbeck Building, near the elevator location, is often somewhat congested.
According to Reeve, the committee has been considering a move for about four years. In discussing the architectural renderings with Reeve on Tuesday, March 1, he shared he was just getting ready to offer a description of spatial usage to Creekwood Architecture – giving them an idea of “who is going to be where in the office and what’s going to be what.”
Veterans Affairs will primarily inhabit the southern wing of the property, which recently housed the work-release program. The building is mostly vacant now, though the Michigan Department of Correction utilizes a portion for office space. The structure was likely constructed in the early 60s, so has seen decades of use.
Reeve explained that the process is still early and there are many elements to consider going forward, emphasizing that every structural, electrical and mechanical detail needs to be examined.
“They still have to go through and identify if we’re going to tear out a wall, is it a structural wall, is it going to need support, can we actually do it and if we do it, are the pipes lined with asbestos. And if they find that, then we’re going to have to have an abatement and get those taken care of,” Reeve said.
In speaking about some of his current thoughts regarding planning, with nothing having been made official, so changes are likely as the process moves ahead, Reeve shared he envisions a conference room, which is actually already in place, a small public bathroom near the front off of a reception area. A main office, which already has a security window in place, will likely continue as main office space. There is also a security gate currently in place across the center hall: a feature Reeve is considering keeping with a simple keycode system. Across from the main office, another office space might be used by the transportation coordinator. Further back will be the employee break room, a copy/office supply room and the Veterans Affairs offices, along with VSO (Veterans Service Organization) office spaces. Toward the back, Reeve is considering a multi-use space for mental health practitioners, visiting dentists or ear/hearing doctors. Dental care and hearing are significant issues with county veterans.
Reeve emphasized that the ideas are “just potential but we have the space where we can now have those discussions. Whereas, the Surbeck, there is no room to grow.”
The former Griffin Home is all on a single floor with direct access to easy parking and roughly ½-mile south of M-21. The central hall is already very wide, designed to accommodate wheelchairs when it functioned as an elderly care facility. Reeve is hopeful to be able to offer a covered portico at the front to assist veterans with easy access. Again, the planning process is early in development and the structural considerations need to be met first.
“I would love to be able to turn this into, not only our offices, but with the addition of more services and the conference room and also being able to provide some different programs to tie into some existing programs for veterans through either Saginaw or the county itself,” Reeve shared, “I would love to turn it into a county vets center instead of just the county veteran offices. That way it is something that is going to last for years and years and years.”
Reeve said they did apply and were approved for a grant to assist with construction costs, which will be matched by county dollars. More information on construction costs will be made clear following the initial planning process, minus the beginning cost to hire Creekwood Architecture. Reeve is hoping construction might be completed within this year.
“I want this to be a place the county is proud of,” he said. “It doesn’t need to be the Taj Mahal and I don’t expect it to be the Taj Mahal, but I want to make sure that not only the current taxpayers, but those taxpayers not paying taxes yet on down the road, have a place that they can be proud of.”