Moving on Up

On the East Side of Evansville, Vogel Road dashes east from North Green River Road. It’s a steady stream of commerce: low-lying, single-story buildings housing chain restaurants, specialty shops, and strip malls with hair salons and dentist offices. It’s suburban comfort that crashes into Burkhardt Road.

Burkhardt Road once was a lazy bit of farmland considered the edge of Evansville. Remnants of that history remain. At the intersection of Vogel and Burkhardt roads is a large stretch of empty acreage. There, a sign promises the farmland now here will emerge as a commercial/residential development later. Around the farmland are signs of the economic progress: big-box stores, apartment complexes, and upscale condo units.

In the mix, the 96,000-square-foot, three-story Veterans Affairs Healthcare Center towers above the banks with drive-through windows and the office parks filled with manmade water features. Its impressive stature reflects an important mission: to serve the regional veterans who sacrificed for this country. The outpatient clinic — currently under construction with a completion date targeted by year’s end — will serve more than 10,000 veterans from Evansville and thousands from Henderson and Owensboro, Ky., in need of specialized care.

It is not a new concept for Evansville. The current local clinic in Downtown’s Walnut Centre provides primary care and a range of specialties ending in “ology.” Yet, the facility wasn’t enough. Thousands of local veterans routinely trekked two hours for medical services at the VA Medical Center in Marion, Ill. Of the 42,000 served in southeastern Illinois, a third are from Evansville. The four-hour road trip comes to an end in 2012. What does this mean for commerce surrounding the new project?

The new VA outpatient clinic is three times the size of its predecessor and much more technologically advanced. Under their new roof in Waterford Park behind the Kruckemeyer and Cohn jewelry store, the clinic will offer on-site diagnostic testing; gastroenterology scopes; more sophisticated imaging, including CT scans; and mental health services. A full-time gastroenterologist will come on board as well as a homeless-veteran case manager and diagnostics staff. Otherwise, the 130-member staff remains the same.

The Marion medical center still is a needed facility for elective surgery, spinal cord injury/disorders, and advanced diagnostics such as MRIs. “They’re our parent facility. They are a hospital,” says Dr. Tahir Mufti, medical officer at the Evansville facility. “Sometimes we use local hospitals depending on the case or sometimes Indianapolis or Louisville.” But these services aren’t out of the question for future care. “The veterans drive the care,” says Mufti.

Leaders from Arizona-based GLHN Architects and Engineers created the design, and they considered Evansville’s location in the New Madrid Fault zone, a 120-mile seismic area. Jane Bullock, the former chief of staff at the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the Clinton administration, has written extensively on Southern and Midwestern buildings surrounding the fault zone. Buildings and schools, she claims, would collapse should an earthquake equal to the power of a 2010 Chilean disaster that killed more than 700,000 occur. The VA clinic would not — most likely — be one of them. “This could be an active seismic zone,” says Walter Heston, resident engineer on the project, “so this facility was designed with a great deal of seismic stability.”

Beyond that strength are numerous energy efficient aspects of the building, and Heston emphasized LEED silver certification standards. The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is an environmental performance rating system established by the United States Green Building Council. The credit-based system earns points for each environmentally friendly step taken during a building’s construction and use.

While the building brings a new appeal to the East Side, initial community concern was that non-driving veterans wouldn’t be able to make the trip to the facility as easily as they could Downtown. According to Peggy Willoughby, public affairs officer at the Marion medical center, Metropolitan Evansville Transit System officials have agreed to add a connection route when the new clinic opens. Usage will determine the addition of a bus shelter and whether the route is permanent or on-call.

For those driving, the clinic may be more accessible. The site was selected from a large number of proposals due to its easy access to Interstate 164 and other major roadways. Mike Richardson, a broker/developer with RE/MAX Commercial, participated in the site-search and says the East Side location is a win/win for all involved. The safe setting of a professional park enhances the clinic’s image, he says. Likewise, the clinic’s proximity to amenities — hotels, sit-down restaurants, and other medical facilities — will provide a boost to the local economy.

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