Congressman Richard Neal and Secretary of Veteran’s Services Jon Santiago pose for a photo with Veteran’s Home officials and project workers.
Reminder Publishing photo by Trent Levakis

HOLYOKE – U.S. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Springfield) made a visit to the construction site for the new Holyoke Veterans’ Home on April 2 to check out the progress made nine months after Neal and Gov. Maura Healey joined for the groundbreaking of the new 234-bed facility.

Prior to the groundbreaking, Neal was in regular communication with United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough, advocating for federal funding to bring this project to fruition. As a result, the Holyoke Veterans’ Home entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with the VA, in which the VA committed $263.5 million in federal funds for the $482 million project.

“For so many people that come here, this is the last stop. This is home, and I think we need to remember that,” Neal said.

Neal visited inside the existing home site before taking a tour with project managers and Veterans’ Home officials to view the ongoing project site that will soon be a new state-of-the-art home for veterans. The new building’s foundation is nearly complete.

Officials on scene for the visit told Neal if all continues to go as planned, veterans should start moving into the new building in 2027.

Joining Neal was Dr. Jon Santiago, the state’s first cabinet-level secretary of veteran’s services and Maj. Gen. Sean Collins, chair of the home’s board of trustees.

“We’ve put in mechanisms, policies, procedures here to make sure that what happened here during COVID will never happen again,” Santiago said. “With respect to the actual building, this is moving toward a small family home, moving away from the institutionalization of veterans and long-term care.”

The new space comes following the tragedy that occurred when over 70 veterans lost their lives inside the existing building due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

The new facility is being built on the Veterans Affairs new “small house” model, with distinct communities of 10, 12 or 14 residents and a balance of independence with services.

“Veterans Affairs will see this as a model not just for the state but for the country,” Santiago added.

The building will also be nearly carbon neutral, with geothermal wells providing heating and air conditioning, and its power will be drawn from Holyoke Gas & Electric’s hydroelectric dam. That will make the new home less costly to operate despite being 30% larger, said Joe Fazio, project manager for the state’s Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance.

There are also plans to install solar panels. Fazio also added that when construction on the project reaches its peak there will be about 400 construction workers.

The new building will stand in what was a parking lot and dormitory-style housing. Once it is complete, the existing building will be demolished, and the site landscaped. Construction of the steel framing is expected to begin in just a few weeks.

Neal also noted during his time he has been a frequent visitor of the existing building over the years. He added he used to make visits to see his uncle, a Korean Veteran and his grandfather.

“I’m a champion of this veterans’ home, that’s for sure,” Neal said.