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Soldier On project moves forward after years on hold

Date: 5/1/2015

AGAWAM – After years of waiting, construction for Agawam’s housing facility for homeless veterans will begin construction this summer.

The 51-unit community housing facility set to be built in the former Western Massachusetts Regional Police Academy on South Westfield Street in Agawam has been put on hold due to design and funding conflicts, according to Soldier On CEO Jack Downing.

The state originally sold the property to the organization for $1 in 2010, with construction slated to have begun in the spring of 2011.

One hurdle for the $14 million project has been dealing with restoration and preservation of the historic building, especially the windows.

This restoration and its cost initially sent Downing to Agawam’s Community Preservation Committee for an additional $500,000 of funding from the Community Preservation Act. The Committee was scheduled to vote on the funding at its April 22 meeting. The money would be used to cover an additional $480,000 worth of restoration the National Park Service required.

However, Downing said this funding, for the time being, became unnecessary when the National Park Service presented another option within the project’s budget. The request was withdrawn before the meeting.

Downing said he expects a groundbreaking in July or August.

After nearly five years, Downing said he is ready to get the project going.    

“I’m excited about the facility. It’s going to be a beautiful project … It will continue to have the historic aspects while serving veterans in the community,” he said. “It fits very well with the character of that neighborhood and ongoing development of the town.”

Agawam will make a great home for the community, Downing said, because it “has always been patriotic and supported veterans.” He sited Richard Girard, the town’s veterans’ services director, as a strong resource for the future residents of the project.

The building will feature furnished studio apartments, which the veterans will own, as well as treatment groups, an employment program and transportation to and from appointments. This, Downing said, helps create a community.

“This community forms and it begins to take care of itself because they own and manage the facility together, so they will work together,” Downing said.

Solider On is a local nonprofit designed to provide homeless veterans with safe and affordable housing. It is currently working on similar projects in Chicopee, Albany, N.Y., and Jackson, MS.