Veterans and family members mixed and mingled with VA staff

CANANDAIGUA — Thursday’s town-hall meeting at Canandaigua VA Medical Center took on a different form from previous such events, with veterans mingling and visiting tables where they found information and a VA employee to answer questions. Fifteen tables and a display showing VA construction plans were set up to offer the latest on what is happening at the site on Fort Hill Avenue and at its sister center, the Rochester VA outpatient Clinic.

Kicking off the gathering that drew 25 veterans and a number of family and community members, Canandaigua VA Executive Director Michael Swartz said the pending $122 million construction project — the first phase of an anticipated $309 million project — is still about six months away from groundbreaking. Holding up the start of construction of a new outpatient clinic and renovations to the center’s main building is a review by the Army Corps of Engineers, which is expected to sign off on the plan.

The project will entail building a new outpatient clinic and renovation of VA’s main Building 1, with entrance and tower keeping the original architecture and offices created where veterans can meet with healthcare providers. Canandaigua VA Construction Project Manager David Price said earlier this year completion of this first phase would likely take until 2020.

Sam Casella, former Canandaigua town supervisor, was on the original panel of government leaders selected more than a decade ago to weigh in on construction plans to modernize the campus, which dates back to 1933. Casella was at the event to greet area veterans and learn where plans stand. He recalled the controversy when early drafts called for tearing down and replacing many of the VA’s historic buildings. Casella said he is pleased to see that only a couple buildings will be torn down to upgrade the facility.

Richard Salgueiro, Canandaigua VA associate director, showed drawings of what will be a new Rochester VA Outpatient Clinic set to break ground this fall. The 84,000-square-foot building will be on nearly 15.5 acres on Calkins Road in Henrietta. The clinic is expected to open in early 2019. The site will replace the current outpatient facility on Westfall Road. The new building will house primary and specialty care, and the VA will lease two smaller spaces in proximity to the main clinic to house mental health, fitness and rehabilitation-related services.

At Thursday’s event, a number of veterans said they liked being able to meet face-to-face with VA representatives. Tables offered details about everything from mental health and women’s healthcare to VA recreational programs and applying for VA benefits.