Plan imagines design of new veterans center

PHILMONT–Veterans and officials gathered at Pine Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center last week for a presentation by Chelsea Nichols, a graduating senior at New York School of Interior Design with an interest in healthcare design.

Al Wassenhove, chairman of the Save Pine Haven Phase II Committee introduced Ms. Nichols to a group that included state Senator Roy McDonald, Vince Grimaldi of Veterans Services, Claverack Supervisor Robin Andrews, Ghent Supervisor Lawrence Andrews and Mayor Skip Speed of Philmont.

If the committee has its way, the aging and outdated facility won’t be torn down after the completion of the new Pine Haven facility nearby. This group, long aware of a need for a veterans facility in Columbia County, believes that repurposing the building as a place for services veterans need makes sense.

Mr. Wassenhove said that more that 1,000 veterans live in the county.

“This is the best possible use of the building,” said Supervisor Lawrence Andrews of Ghent.

The project was inspired by Ms. Nichols’ brother, Jason, a lieutenant and pilot in the Army. “It started with the lobby and grew,” said her father, County Judge Jonathan Nichols.

The title of Ms. Nichols’ thesis is Common Ground of Philmont, a Veterans Reintegration Center to be built at the place now occupied by Pine Haven.

“Common ground is a military term for a place to receive information,” said Ms. Nichols. “A veteran’s return home is sometimes the toughest battle they will have to go through.” This facility is designed to help with that process, she said.

She introduced as an overarching concept for the project the motto, Love, Honor and Protect, and divided the space into areas called Self, Country and Community. Those spaces include areas designated for personal activities, like physical rehabilitation, group therapy, medical care and more public activities, such as job counseling, education, exercise, financial advice, video communication, eating and meetings. The facility would have a pool and theatre.

Ms. Nichols’ concept for the lobby features a border of water at the foot of two-story glass walls. Natural wood paneling and a memorial wall of names of deceased veterans complete the tranquil space. The design uses most of the current building while transforming it for a new use.

The project began in 2009 when Mr. Wassenhove started the Save Pine Haven Phase II Committee and started reaching out to the community by speaking about it at town and school board meetings.

“Your community is reaching out,” he said, adding, “There’s money out there. We’re able to do this locally. We’ll partner with the Veterans Administration.

Now the fundraising begins. Help may come from veterans’ organizations, the National Guard, The American Legion, VFW and others. “You have the will to do this,” Mr. Wassenhove said.

Some veterans are homeless, jobless and suffer from a host of chronic problems, like post traumatic stress, said Senator McDonald, who is a veteran. “They were there for us when we needed them. We’ve got to be there for them,” he said.

Once money is raised to fund the project, the organizers will seek design proposals, and this just might land a job.

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