Trumbull veterans seek a new home

TRUMBULL — Two years after structural damage forced them to abandon their Whitney Avenue building, Trumbull’s veterans groups are planning to build a better, more modern facility on the site.

“It will be a real asset to the community — a jewel,” said former First Selectman Raymond Baldwin Jr., a member of both American Legion Post 141 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10059.

The vision for the 6.7-acre property where the current building sits on Katz Pond across the street from Indian Ledge Park is to build a Veterans Center that could be used by the American Legion and VFW, and also provide meeting space for town organizations and the public, Baldwin said. The new building also could be used for fundraising activities like bingo and rented for events to generate revenue.

It also would serve as a central location for veterans services like health screenings and job training, he said.

Baldwin, who will make a presentation to the Town Council at its Jan. 6 meeting, is the chairman of an exploratory committee researching the feasibility of rebuilding on the site.

“It’s a gorgeous site,” Baldwin said. He said the adjacent 17-acre pond had formerly hosted youth fishing derbies and other activities, and the pond also had been used for training the town’s emergency scuba dive teams.

The veterans groups are seeking to have the Town Council add the project to the town’s Capital Projects List. That distinction would then allow the groups to seek state and federal grants and also begin private fundraising.

George Wiles, from Wiles and Associates Architecture, has already completed some renderings of the proposed Veterans Center, and Greg Raucci from Bismarck Construction has provided a preliminary cost estimate, Baldwin said.

“It would be between a $2.4 million and $2.8 million project,” Baldwin said. The plan would include classroom space, offices, a main meeting and event room and a kitchen. In an attempt to break from the traditional veterans hall, though, the building does not include a separate bar area.

Plans also call for additional parking, a new septic system and a dock on the 17-acre pond. The town already has earmarked funds for dredging and cleanup of the pond.

Ideally, the center could be built without town funding, he said. The project’s supporters have already scheduled a meeting with Sen. Chris Murphy about potential federal grants, and are planning to meet with the town’s state legislative delegation. Economic and Community Development Director Rina Bakalar and Trumbull resident and attorney Sujata Gadkar-Wilcox are looking into corporate grants to help fund the project, he said.

The current 2,800-square foot building has stood on the site since 1940, and has been town-owned since 1968. In 1981, the town leased the property to the veterans organizations for 99 years at an annual cost of $1.

The building, which Baldwin described as “awful looking, but serviceable” on its best days, has been vacant since 2017 when the town condemned it due to structural damage. Baldwin said the town engineer determined that the building’s floor, which had settled several feet over the years, was unrepairable. The building’s 1940s mechanicals and plumbing were also not up to modern codes.

“The problem was it was built on top of the wood from the old Katz’s ice house, and as the wood rotted it settled until it was unsafe,” he said.

Since vacating the building, the American Legion has been holding its meetings at the Helen Plumb Building. The VFW members meet at the library. The town briefly explored selling the property in 2017.

Should the town approve the property’s addition to the Capital Projects List, Baldwin said the committee has an ambitious timetable.

“My hope is to have it built within 18 months,” he said. “There are more than 3,000 veterans in Trumbull, and we’ve been without a home for two years.”