The first phase of a big overhaul modernizing veteran medical facilities is underway

CANANDAIGUA — A groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday at the Canandaigua VA Medical Center marked the kickoff of a $161 million project to give veterans across the region a modern, state-of-the art outpatient clinic and related upgrades.

Gathered under the pavilion overlooking the VA courtyard and area where the new 84,200-square-foot clinic will be housed were many involved with the project. They included members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from Buffalo, Ohio and Kentucky.

“This will be the first VA project with the Army Corps as construction agent,” said Stella Fiotes, executive director with VA construction and facilities management. “We will learn from this project,” she said of the partnership expected to mark future joint endeavors. Those include a planned second phase for modernizing the campus at 400 Fort Hill Ave.

Brigadier General Mark Toy, commander and division engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Great Lakes and Ohio River, said the division has 4,100 members involved. The project will be managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with support from the medical center and VA Construction and Facilities Management.

Construction for the project was awarded in January to Ontario County-based Pike-P.J. Dick Joint Venture.

Kenneth Piazza, acting director of the Canandaigua VA, said the new outpatient clinic will provide the latest in primary and speciality care, radiology and a new dental clinic.

The new outpatient clinic is expected to be completed in 2022.

A number of area veterans attended the ceremony. They were among a crowd that gathered beforehand inside the heated building of the pavilion on this unseasonably cold day that felt more like January than April.

“Anytime we can help our veterans with new building and with more medical, it’s excellent,” said Marty Collins, commander of the Canandaigua Chapter 4 of Disabled American Veterans.

“It’s a good thing. It’s progress,” Collins said.

Gene Gerrard, a VA volunteer and World War II veteran, said he was glad to see the project becoming a reality. Gerard, 96, who served from 1942 to 1949, talked about his connection with veterans and their families as a volunteer and the work being done on the Canandaigua campus for veterans.

“I am for anything to help the veterans,” he said.

Canandaigua Mayor Ellen Polimeni was the only elected official who spoke. State and federal officials sent representatives to provide their praises for the project.

Polimeni acknowledged the hard work and perseverance of veterans and other community members including VA employees.

“We came close to losing the VA,” said Polimeni.

In 2003, the Canandaigua VA was targeted for closure under a national restructuring plan. Now, the project breaking ground is just the first phase of a planned $351 million overhaul. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer was in Canandaigua last month to announce his push for approval of the $190 million needed for the second phase. That will bring a new community living center for nursing home level care; short-term housing for veterans recovering from substance abuse, homelessness and mental or behavioral health conditions; and renovations to improve rehabilitation and physical therapy services.

Polimeni, in her 27th year as mayor, said she first came to Canandaigua because of the VA where her uncle, who was also her godfather, was a patient. Talking about the impact of the VA on the community, Polimeni said she looks forward to watching the progress.

“I am really thrilled with the work that is being done,” the mayor said. Saving the VA and then advances there have “been the work of many people, many of them here today who helped ensure the VA will stay with us,” she added.

Speakers included Alison Hunt for U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning; Patrick McKinney for U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence; and Chris Zeltmann for U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer. Canandaigua VA was represented by Public Affairs Officer Craig Perkins; and Dr. Joan McInerney, director of the VA’s regional network, VISN 2. Thomas Judson, chairman of Pike Company, and a Victor resident, also spoke in expressing his appreciation for the VA and enthusiasm for the project.