Council hears from Trumbull veterans

Nearly three years after their building was condemned due to structural deficiencies, Trumbull veterans are still drawn to the Whitney Ave. site, American Legion Post 141 Commander Ernie Foito said.

“Even now, I see veterans in their car, enjoying the tranquility of the pond, reading their newspapers,” Foito told members of the Trumbull Town Council recently. “It means a lot to them.”

Foito and numerous other veterans spoke to the council, encouraging the members to approve placing the construction of a new Veterans Center building onto its Capital Projects List. Inclusion on the list would enable the town’s two veterans groups to begin applying for state and federal grants to fund the project.

The current building on the site was built in 1940 and served as a gathering plce for the town’s veterans starting in the 1960s. In 1980The estimated cost of the rebuild is $2.4 million to $2.8 milion. The council plans to vote on the issue at its Feb. 6 meeting.

Members of the town’s two veterans groups filled the Town Council Chamber to advocate for the go-aheaf to begin fundraising for the new building. Following a short presentation by former First Selectman Ray Baldwin, the veterans took their turns at the mic telling the council why a new home for veterans was important.

Dan Sacco told the council that VFW Post 10059 meetings, currently held at the library, are frustrating for the veterans and the library’s regular patrons.

Sacco said the somestimes spirited nature of the veterans’ discussions and the traditional playing of Taps to end meetings, seemed out of place in a library.

“We have to bring chairs in to the room, and then bring them out when we leave,” he said. “And people are always coming in saying, ‘Keep it down, this is a library.’”

He also lamented not being able to leave a chair permanently empty for POWs and MIAs, “and those who never got to contributee to our society and live their lives.”

Architect George Wiles, who drew up the plans for the new building, described some of its features. The proposed 5,000-square-foot building would include exposed timbers in the main areas, a warming kitchen where caterers can hold and plate meals, a memorial gallery, gathering room with a capacity of about 150 people, and a resource room for things like job-training classes and health screenings.

Outside areas would have a dock onto Katz Pond and a fire pit.

“Can you see yourself on a summer day enjoying the sunset? Or around the firepit enjoying fellowship?” he said.

Other community members spoke about the building’s functionality for non-veterans and other town groups. For example, the town’s police for years have held training classes in a lineup room at the department’s Edison Road headquarters. But the room only has space for about 25 people, and the department has three times that many officers, said Police Chief Michael Lombardo.

A new veterans center would allow larger classes and, given the proposed building’s location across the streeet from Indian Ledge Park, would be convenient to the department’s outdoor shooting range, Lombardo said.

Vince Fini, president of the Rotary Club of Trumbull, called the construction of a new Veterans Center “a project near and dear to our heart.”

Currently the club holds its breakfast meetings at the library, but the proposed building would be a more comfortable space for members to assemble.

“It would be a wonderful facility for our club, and the other civic organizations in town,” he said.

The building also would allow the veterans to generate income by renting the space for weddings, birthdays, bar mitvahs, and more, Foito said.

“The only income we have now is from distributing poppies,” Foito said referring to the “buddy poppies” that veterans groups distribute in exchange for donations.

Every cent the groups earn from poppies goes back to the community, he said.

“We funds four scholarships at the high school, and give out 22 medals for Americanism to students,” Foito said. “I help hand them out, and it’s a really great feeling to see the students get their medals and knowing what they’re for.”

Foito said he hoped the veterans would continue their partnership with Trumbull schools and the community in the future, with a new home.

“If you would consider (letting us build) this, we will continue to make you proud,” he said.