A plan to create a regional campus for veterans in the western part of Tyler is moving forward.
If all goes as planned, the East Texas Veterans Community Council will open with several different veterans services offices during Memorial Day weekend of 2019 and expand over a three-year period.
The campus, called CampV Tyler, would combine a respite center, resource offices, a bus stop, equine office, a gym, stables, a pasture, and walking and riding trails on 20 acres at 3212 W. Front St.
Over time, the campus would be expanded to include a women’s respite center, a market, a kitchen and lounge area, a flower garden, a pavilion, an organic vegetable garden, a chapel, parking and transitional housing.
Susan Campbell, the chairwoman of the board of directors, gave an overview of the project to the Smith County Commissioners Court on Tuesday and asked if the county government would be willing to be part of the project.
Campbell said the organization would like the county’s Veterans Service Office, currently at 210 E. Ferguson St., to move to an office space on the campus and pay rent for the space to the East Texas Veterans Community Council.
“I think together we can definitely make the difference,” Campbell said. “We can reduce this frustration of the veterans when they have to drive all over and they come from outside the county and they come here for health.”
Campbell said rental income from veterans service providers such as the Smith County Veterans Service Office, would bring in 24 percent of the $150,000 the organization needs for its annual operational budget. However, she said the rent would be well below market prices in order to attract the services.
Additionally, the organization has been seeking to raise $1.5 million for startup costs. The money would go toward completing the purchase of the property in December, renovating the buildings between February and May, and a startup budget.
Campbell said the organization has raised 25 percent of its $1.5 million goal. The organization also is reaching out to eight foundations and multiple individuals to help make up the difference. In the future, the organization also anticipates generating earned income on the property.
Michael Roark, who runs the Smith County Veteran Services Office, told the Commissioners Court that the concept is good, but he said he has several questions that the organization needs to address before he would recommend the court vote to move the location.
County Judge Nathaniel Moran said the concerns include making sure volunteers on the campus are vetted sufficiently to meet the county’s standards, and making sure there is sufficient information-technology security and sufficient privacy safeguards for medical information.
“Those are concerns that I think we can work through,” Moran said. “Some things also that were mentioned was we want to be sure that the project is economically viable going forward.”
He added: “It’s a concept that has great merit to it. It really does. We just need to be sure that the t's are crossed and the i's are dotted and that we get it in place of course before the county commits its resources going forward long term.”
Campbell said in an interview she is confident in the organization’s funding model. She said the organization has not closed on the property yet because it was in a “chicken-and-egg” scenario.
She said her organization wants to make sure other groups would join the project as rent-paying tenants. She said the seller has been working with her organization, and the seller’s representative attended Tuesday’s meeting.
Moran suggested that members of the Commissioners Court meet with Campbell individually and plan to decide later this month whether to move the Smith County Veterans Service Office.
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