Groundbreaking turns page for Walla Walla VA

Two new units will be built on the sprawling campus, bringing new life to the historic facility.

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As dignitaries speak in the background, hardhats and shovels await for the formal groundbreaking Tuesday of a new outpatient clinic and residential recovery unit at the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center. (Andy Porter photo) (April 19, 2011)

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Veterans of Foreign Wars members Paul Hellie, left, Buzz Logan and Mike Hays prepare to lead the color guard Tuesday to open the groundbreaking ceremony for a new outpatient clinic and residential recovery unit at the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center. (Andy Porter photo) (April 19, 2011)

WALLA WALLA -- One of Walla Walla's historic spots opened a new chapter of its life Tuesday.

Braving a cold spring wind, a crowd turned out at the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center to break ground for a new outpatient clinic and residential recovery unit. The ceremony celebrated "the end of a long journey," said U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in a letter read by aide Kathleen Cathey.

That journey began in 2004 as the facility, which dates to 1921, was facing closure by the Veterans Administration. A public outcry ensued, spurring efforts by many officials, including U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and then-Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., to preserve the center and improve services local veterans needed the most.

"It's a great example of success when you rally around a project," said U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., Nethercutt's successor. The Walla Walla center serves about 65,000 veterans in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, she noted.

The new construction will consist of a two-story, 67,000-square-foot outpatient clinic on the west end of the campus behind the old hospital building. It will consolidate clinical, administrative and support functions into one facility.

The 36-bed recovery unit will be about 22,000-square-feet and located in the southwest corner of the campus. It will include a 12-bed wing dedicated to women's care.

David Morton, senior resident engineer for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said the clinic contractor will be Walsh Construction of Chicago, which offered the low bid of $22.1 million. The residential recovery unit will be built by Hanke Construction of St. Louis, which was the low bidder at about $5.6 million.

At least one member of the color guard spoke for many veterans in the audience,

"This is a day I thought would never come," said Buzz Logan, a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 992.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318. Check out his blog at blogs.ublabs.org/randomthoughts.

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