VFW building to get upgrade, big remodel may be in future

Staff Writer
Devils Lake Journal
The 102-year-old building that houses VFW Post 756 is getting a bathroom remodel to help with some accessibility issues. City engineer Mike Grafsgaard says that much more involved remodel to bring the building up to ADA standards to accommodate elderly and disabled veterans, and others, may be coming in the next couple of years if funding can be secured.

The building that houses VFW Post 756 on 3rd Ave. NE is 102 years old, according to documents kept at the city offices. It’s been in the National Registry of Historic Places since 1989.

Though the historic building is a staple of the downtown landscape, its age presents accessibility issues for many older and disabled veterans who either have difficulty maneuvering the entryway staircase or are unable to scale it at all.

Mike Grafsgaard, the city’s engineer and VFW member, said that he believes the issue discourages many veterans from visiting the place.

“We have many veterans who have issues with accessibility,” Grafsgaard said. “So many aging veterans would come up there if it was accessible, (but) it hasn’t been accessible for a long time.”

Making the venue more vet-friendly is a project that Grafsgaard says is in its initial stage, with money being the key factor moving forward. He says that VFW members have been the chief source of funding to improve the building.

Before the building is potentially remodeled in order to accommodate all veterans - and anyone else who may wish to use the facility - contractors will be undertaking a project to update the VFW’s bathroom in order to make it Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant.

Grafsgaard considers the bathroom remodel the first phase of a perhaps more comprehensive upgrade.

“Our goal is to finish phase one,” Grafsgaard said. “The next phase is going to be a very expensive phase. We’re going to have to come up with a plan on exactly how we’re going to do it, what it’s going to cost, and how we’re going to get there.”

According to him, a remodel to make the building fully compliant with ADA standards could cost anywhere from $70,000 to $150,000, depending on the scope of the project. Grafsgaard pointed out the challenges involved with raising that money for a project that he said is quite expensive compared to the value of the building itself.

“Once you start a remodel, you want to do more,” he said. “Maybe we can get some momentum and keep things going, but we just don’t have the money at this point to spend $150,000 to make a real nice entrance to the building when it’s a $50,000 building.”

That reality leaves some veterans and others in the lurch for now, but the city’s engineer seemed optimistic that an improvement project beyond the bathroom upgrade may happen sooner than later. The VFW has reportedly applied for grants, including with the Otto M. Bremer fund, which issues grants for community projects in North Dakota, Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

If grant and other funding comes through, Grafsgaard said that the next step would be to plan exactly how to go about the project, which he indicates will require the building to be remodeled significantly.

“(We don’t know) whether we’re going to take a ramp approach - something fairly simple, a little more inexpensive - or if we’re going to modify the building in order to have that full accessibility,” Grafsgaard said. “That’s going to be a little more complicated.”