After years of waiting, the 30,000 military veterans in Columbus and the surrounding Chattahoochee Valley area are finally getting a new primary care and mental health clinic as part of a $62.4 million project, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs confirmed Thursday.
Construction on the VA Outpatient Clinic at 2357 Warm Springs Road, which encompass slightly more than 70,000 square feet of space, is scheduled to begin in early 2019, with an estimated completion by spring 2021.
That address is the 12-acre site of the former Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia office, which was closed after the insurance company relocated its Columbus operations center to Muscogee Technology Park on the northeast side of the city in late 2015. That construction project was valued at $76 million.
The old Blue Cross and Blue Shield buildings, which total about 147,000 square feet of space, will be demolished to make way for the new clinic. The insurer operated operated out of the office complex since 1958. That’s when the original structure was constructed. A multi-story tower was added in the late 1960s, with yet another expansion taking place in the 1970s.
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Veterans Affairs said that PH LLC, doing business as The Molasky Group of Companies Inc., based in Las Vegas, Nev., has been awarded the $62.4 million contract to develop the Columbus outpatient clinic. Blue Cross turned the nearly six-decade-old Warm Springs Road property over to the company after moving into its new state-of-the-art office.
Just as Blue Cross is leasing its current 235,000-square-foot building from The Molasky Group long term, Veterans Affairs will be doing so as well over 20 years with the Las Vegas development firm, the agency said.
“Veterans and their families in the Columbus, Ga./Phenix City, Ala., area will continue to receive health care throughout this process at the existing CBOC (Community Based Outpatient Clinic),” the VA said Thursday, referring to its existing clinic at 1310 13th Ave., near the intersection of 13th Street in the city’s midtown area. There also is a clinic for veterans on Fort Benning.
U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, whose district stretches from a portion of Columbus to Albany, Ga., applauded the awarding of the clinic development contract, saying it had been a priority for him while working with local city and government officials to find an area in the city in which a facility would be accessible to all who had served their nation honorably.
“However, our task is not yet finished,” said the congressman, who is a senior member of the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. “I will work to ensure that construction begins on time this winter and that the estimated completion date remains the spring of 2021. We have a duty to the brave men and women that have sacrificed so much for our nation. Completing this new Community Based Outpatient Clinic is a step in the right direction and will make it easier for local veterans to get the care they need and deserve.”
Retired Army Lt. Col. Sam Nelson, chairman of the Chattahoochee Valley Veterans Council, said Thursday that it’s about time that the VA made the move to replace the smaller 13th Avenue facility in the city. It is simply too small for the thousands of veterans who need health care, a population he expects will grow in the future.
“I’m delighted,” Nelson said when informed of the Warm Springs Road location for the new VA clinic. “The great thing about it is we’re probably going to need more space and that area is big enough that they could expand if they needed to.”
Nelson and others in the community had lobbied roughly two decades to have a new VA outpatient clinic built on Victory Drive, where it would be closer to more veterans who are poor and don’t necessarily have access to transportation.
“Having said that, I’d rather have it where they’re putting it than not have it at all,” he said. “Quite frankly, the first idea they had was to put it up in north Columbus where the bus doesn’t run. How does the poor veteran get there? ... I’m just glad they’re putting it (in Columbus) and that there’s going to be better care for these guys.”
Aside from the local outpatient facilities, many military veterans who aren’t retired and don’t have access to Martin Army Community Hospital at Fort Benning have no choice but to seek care and treatment at the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System and hospital in Tuskegee, about an hour away.
The general contractor for the VA Outpatient Clinic will be Batson-Cook, while Hecht Burdeshaw Architects of Columbus and Lyman Davidson Dooley of Marietta, Ga., are the architects for the project.