December Veterans Commission Meeting: Some Progress, Some Rethinking

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By Michael McAllister

The regular monthly meeting of Grinnell’s Veterans Memorial Commission was called to order as scheduled on Monday, December 10, in the Community Room of the Drake Library.  Four of five members—(pictured above, from left) Gwen Rieck, Randy Hotchkin, Leo Lease, and Terry Stringfellow—were present. 

Ten people made up the audience.

Routine business dealt with finances, which had not changed significantly since the November meeting. Commission Chair Leo Lease reported a budget of $85,871.  Nicole Brua Behrens, representing the Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation, cited $9,248 as the fund balance as of October 31 and $41,157 as the project-to-date total.

The commission considered two bills for payment.  The first, from Alliant Energy, for $82.38, was routine.  The second, from Meardon, Sueppel & Downer, for $1,568.10, required some explanation from Leo Lease.  The Iowa City law firm had done legal research.  “We got a lot of questions answered that will be helpful as we focus on completing,” asserted Lease.

Randy Hotchkin asked if the commission could approach the firm with additional questions if necessary, and Lease answered affirmatively. 

Both bills were approved for payment.

When the agenda item “Update on Amperage Marketing & Fundraising Contract” arose, Tom Lacina responded.

“I think we’ve got a contract,” Lacina reported, after “one more tweak.”  The Veterans Memorial Commission previously voted to enter into a contract with Amperage at the appropriate time.  Amperage had already completed an extensive survey of community attitudes toward the Veterans Memorial Building and the concept of an artist residency there in relation to fundraising possibilities.  The report was presented by Justin Tolan of Amperage at the commission’s August meeting and is available on the City of Grinnell’s website.

Lacina clarified a payment schedule that would apply for Amperage’s forthcoming services.  After an initial payment, subsequent installments would be due every other month through the completion of the contract.  It is likely, however, that Amperage’s hours would exceed the pre-established installment; thus, if the contract were to be stopped, some additional fees could be payable.  On the other hand, if Amperage’s hours should run beyond the amount stipulated by the contract, no additional charges would be assessed.

Lacina also reported that he has discussed the involvement of the Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation with foundation Executive Director Nicole Brua Behrens.  Because Amperage does not collect the funds that the company’s efforts eventually generate, another entity such as the foundation is required to receive the funds.

In addition, because some fundraising efforts will extend to other states, licensing issues need to be addressed.

As part of his explanation, Lacina recapped the timeline currently envisioned.  He had previously presented an approximate timeline through a Letter to the Editor of the November 22-26 Grinnell Herald Register.

Amperage’s work in the next phase of the campaign would begin around February 1 with fundraising to commence in a quiet phase around April 1.

“We’re going to go out and get enough power, enough money and commitments, so that we’re about halfway there,” Lacina said, adding that success with the quiet or private phase will make the project credible for the subsequent public portion.

Lacina projected “the middle of the summer” as a time for concluding the private campaign with the public phase to follow in the fall so that “by the end of the year, we’ll be ready to go.”

“The’ll be by our side the whole time,” Lacina said, referring to Amperage personnel, and he added that the firm will also assist with community presentations, grant writing, preparation of a video for YouTube, and an assessment of the project’s web presence.

“A large chunk of their time is taken to look at the idea and the concepts the commission has put together and put it into a format that people will understand,” Lacina explained.   

In addition to work with Amperage, meetings are also in progress with RDG Architects regarding building design specifics and related community input.

Commission Chair Lease referred to a December 5 work session with RDG, commenting that the meeting went well.  Tom Lacina explained that RDG will host design charettes in January, which will give community members opportunities to make suggestions regarding building features. Some design issues need to be resolved so that Amperage can better prepare educational presentations.

These design charettes, or sessions, will be a way to “start getting some real flesh and bones onto the concept,” reported Lacina.  In connection with design, Tom Lacina and his son Joe had inspected the Veterans Memorial Building the previous Thursday, which generated a report of suggestions from the Lacina’s to the Veterans Memorial Commission.

The report included two shifts in thinking relating to the interior and exterior of the building.

On the first floor of the building, the front one-third remains envisioned as a community area large enough for thirty to forty people and could include an archive area for displays and perhaps video presentations paying tribute to veterans of the Grinnell area.  A catering kitchen on the first floor would serve the community area. 

As for the exterior, here Lacina proposes giving “a free hand to the architects” rather than necessarily replicating the roofline of the stage and shelter house.   This change, Lacina feels, would reduce cost, and he noted that the buildings around Central Park display a wide range of architectural styles.

The general residency concept remains what has been proposed—from five to seven artists in a project-based environment in which artists and the community would interact (as opposed to a residency in which artists seek solitude to devote full time to their work).

However, in what Joe Lacina called “a flip,” the latest proposal calls for the artists’ bedrooms and social area to be on the first floor and for the basement to become the work area.  In previous concepts, artists’ studios were to be on the first floor with bedrooms in the basement.

Joe Lacina explained that this shift results from two situations.  First, in marketing the residency, bedrooms on the first floor will be more attractive than rooms in a basement.  Second, when installing plumbing for the five bedrooms, it will be easier and less expensive to do so on the first floor than in the basement because there is space between the two levels for piping.

Leo Lease commented that the new concept also contributes to the building’s flexibility. 

“I just wonder how the community is going to react,” posed Gwen Rieck, commission member, suggesting that bedrooms in an area that is also meant to serve the community could pose issues. 

Tom Lacina offered an explanation.  “In the first design, there was going to be a wall between…the community space…and at that time the studios.  There’s going to be the same wall; it’s just a different function back behind that wall.”

 “This would be a much less expensive approach,” Tom Lacina added.

“Be prepared for pushback,” commented an audience member, “when you take the first floor, the upper floor, and knock two-thirds out of it so that the public can’t use it.  That’s going to be an issue.”

Several comments followed in a general discussion involving the building, its place in the community, and the levy vote in November of 2017 that affirmed the community’s support for building preservation.

Randy Hotchkin stressed that, despite the levy vote, and despite the commission’s gratitude for the results, much work remains to be done for the Prairie Star Residency to be created.

The meeting was adjourned at 6:00 p.m.

The Veterans Memorial Commission will meet next in regular session on Monday, January 14, 2019, at the Drake Community Library at 5:15 p.m.

Announcements about design sessions open to the community should be forthcoming in Grinnell media.

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