The Carroll County Veterans Independence Project, which aims to convert the Carroll County Memorial U.S. Army Reserve Center on Malcolm Drive in Westminster into a veterans resource center, moved its objective a little closer to reality recently with a $10,000 donation from the VFW Maryland.
"One of the credos of the VFW is, you honor the dead by supporting the living," said State VFW Commander Bill Miller. "I could think of no better place to put our money than to support something like this."
Miller came to Westminster on April 24 to personally present a check for $10,000 to Frank Valenti and Ed Kramer, president and vice president of the Carroll County Veterans Independence Project.
"Any time people want to chip in and be part of something that will be really good, it's a wonderful feeling," Valenti said. "Of course it helps moving the financials down the road toward the amount of money we need, that's always helpful."
It will take an estimated $4 million to fully renovate the 13,000-square-foot main facility, and 2,000-square-foot motor pool, according to Valenti, funds that are being raised from nonprofits and veterans organizations like the VFW, and faith-based organizations, in addition to some state funding.
"We got a bond bill of about $100,000 from the state legislature, so I'm waiting for the paperwork and the check," he said. "It really is a broad spectrum of individuals and groups, and foundations and community organizations that support this idea of taking care of veterans."
Pep Boys, Valenti said, is going to donate auto-repair equipment to be installed in the motor pool.
That's part of the expansive vision for the new center, which Valenti said will be more than just a shelter for homeless veterans and their families, but a place where veterans can get connected with other community services and get job training.
"We're going to establish internships and mentorships with organizations in the community, businesses in the community," Valenti said. "People coming out of the service or who have been out of the service awhile really need to get a new set of tools."
The center can also be a place where veterans or others with skills to share can congregate and cooperate, Valenti said, such as groups that have already been asking if they could use the building as a place to pack up care packages to be sent to active duty troops overseas.
"That would be a great way to get any veterans interested involved," he said. "There really are no limits to what we can do at the center, it's really the imagination and the drive of the people who are involved."
Once it's open, both Valenti and Miller noted, the center will be the first of its kind in Maryland.
But there is more work to do.
The Carroll County Veterans Independence Project was just recently awarded its own 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, according to Valenti — it has previously been fundraising through the Community Fund of Carroll County — and it is currently taking bids for a contractor to conduct a site survey. Constructed in 1961, and originally housing an indoor pistol range, Valenti said the project wants to ensure the building will be safe and ready for long-term use.
"We still have to go through the professional steps to make sure that it's clean, that there's no asbestos, there's no lead — with a pistol range obviously lead particulate may be in the ducts," he said. "We already have the funds for the site survey."
There is also the question of a lease and a deed. The federal government has been divesting itself of property like the former Army Reserve Center, Valenti said, which was deeded to Carroll County in 2016, and the county will lease it to the project for $1 — but first the feds need to get the county a property deed.
"When the county took possession of the building, they had what's called a quick claim deed, and it was for a specific purpose for law enforcement, so we have to get that changed so we can use it for health, human services, shelter operations, a multipurpose kind of building," Valenti said. "Once that happens, the county will be issued a new deed and then we will be able to rent the facility and begin construction."
That could happen by midsummer.
"We will sign the deed right after that and then start full bore," Valenti said. "I would like to open the doors sometime in late 2020. Give us 18 months, 24 months, if you will, to raise the funds."
And so the Veterans Resources Center is coming, not tomorrow, but, Miller said, it's on the right path.
"I think they are off on a good foot," Miller said. "There is a lot of work that's going to need to be done up at that facility, but I think it's going to happen, and I think it's good it's going to happen."