Trumbull veteran center not awarded latest round of state grants: 'We're going to be OK'

January, 2020 artist renderings of the planned Trumbull Veterans & First Responders Center.

January, 2020 artist renderings of the planned Trumbull Veterans & First Responders Center.

Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media

TRUMBULL — The town's new Veterans and First Responders Center was one of many projects that sought funding through the state's Small Town Economic Assistance Program.

But when the program — which delivers grants to small towns for economic development, community conservation, and quality-of-life capital projects — announced the list of the 77 projects that would receive funding this round, Trumbull and the veterans center weren't on it.

The announcement came as a surprise to some in town, including Trumbull Economic and Community Development Director Rina Bakalar. But, while disappointed, she and others connected with the veterans project said it's not a tremendous blow.

"It certainly would have been helpful. However, we continue to apply for additional funding," she said.

Bakalar said she applied for $500,000 in STEAP funding for the project, slated to cost about $3 million. It's one of many grants she has sought for the center. In April, it was announced that the State Bond Commission had approved $1.5 million in funding for the project. Bakalar said the town has also been approved for $750,000 in federal funding.

Given the progress that has already been made, Ray Baldwin, the chair of the project’s building committee, agreed that the loss of the STEAP money wasn't a major obstacle.

"It could have gotten us closer to our number, but it’s not fatal," he said. "I think we're going to be OK."

The 5,500-square feet facility is slated to be built at the site of the town's former veterans center. That building was condemned in 2017 due to a failing foundation.

In 2019, Trumbull First Selectman Vicki Tesoro and the town council appointed a community building committee to help guide construction of the facility. Bakalar has said that the center would serve as both a meeting place and provide access to a variety of services and resources  — including healthcare and workforce training — for the region’s 30,000 veterans.

The plan has long been for the town not to pay any of the costs for the facility. Bakalar and others associated with the project have sought alternative funding for the project, including fundraising and applying for state and federal grant money.

There were briefly concerns that the cost of the project, originally estimated at $3 million, would go up into the $4 to $4.5 million range due to rising construction costs. But Bakalar and Baldwin said construction costs have since gone down, and are back in the $3 million range.

Bakalar said, despite the STEAP setback, she plans to apply for the grant next time it is available. Until then "we are pursuing other potential federal, state and private funding."