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VFW post hopes to build new facility, keep service mission strong

By Fran Gonzalez | Jan 06, 2021
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez Operations Manager Jim Roberts looks up the staircase that leads to the main entrance on the second floor at the VFW Randall Collins Post 3108 in Belfast Dec. 22.

Belfast — The Veterans of Foreign Wars building on Field Street, home of Randall Collins Post 3108, may soon be coming down, if Operations Manager Jim Roberts has his way, with a new, modern facility taking its place. To keep serving the community, the organization needs a new home, Roberts said.

At a preliminary meeting Dec. 22 with Keith Ewing of Plymouth Engineering and contractor Charlie Plourde from North East Equipment, Roberts discussed options for the new facility as well as the current state of the post.

“We have been patching and patching this old building,” Roberts said. “The patching has to come to an end sometime.”

Both Plourde and Ewing thought a new building would be the best way to proceed, given the amount of work needed to correct the former baby clothes factory that has housed the post for decades.

“Renovating is optimistic,” Ewing said.

The two-story, 5,000-square-foot building on Field Street is also not handicapped-accessible, which Roberts said would help older members.

“The building leans so much,” he said, “you can’t even close the windows.”

Former Commander Steve Brown illustrated the slant in the floor by placing a cue ball at one end of the room and watching as the ball rolled to the opposite side. According to Roberts, the building has no foundation and the post-and-beam structure is built on wooden piers, which are slowly rotting away.

Home Depot invested $10,000 in the building last year, with a new side door and renovations to an attached shed housing the building's oil tank. The post also received a $13,000 grant for a new metal roof last year.

"That's $23,000 in the past 18 months," Roberts said, but a lot more is needed.

Ewing estimated the cost to remove the old building and construct a new single-story, handicapped-accessible facility at between $375,000 and $400,000. The plan would entail building the new VFW post on the opposite side of the parking lot, and leaving the old structure operating during construction. Once the building was completed, the old one would be demolished and a new parking lot would be created.

Roberts said the post has collected about a third of the total money needed to build a new facility, and he is confident it can raise the additional funds.

"We've been doing so much, with so little, for so long, we're now capable of doing anything with nothing," he said. Five to seven years ago, he added, the VFW struggled to pay its electric bills. "The community has treated us good," he said.

One grant Roberts feels especially proud of is a recent $10,000 award from the Steven and Tabitha King Foundation specifically to aid in construction and help veterans.

“We read what the criteria was, and I thought we qualified, and sure enough, we got it on the first try," he said. Because the post serves alcohol and sells lottery tickets, Roberts said, it is not eligible for many other grants.

The goal is to have the same amount of space in the new facility, Roberts said, as the old one. MDA drug test screening, No Greater Love Food Pantry and Waldo County Pet Food Pantry all operate out of the ground floor, and Roberts said the post also hosts weddings and funerals.

The food pantry serves about 102 families each week, he said, while the pet food pantry serves about 80 families per month. MDA drug testing comes in once a week for drug screening and testing. The VFW has an upstairs capacity of 75, and a total of 211 members, but only 55 to 70 are active.

“We would like to continue to do all of that,” he said.

While construction is taking place, Belfast Area High School has approved additional overflow parking for the VFW at the lower parking lot on Waldo Avenue. John McKeith, owner of The Belfast Center (the red and white building) at 9 Field St., has also agreed to provide extra parking at his building.

McKeith said his building is running at 100% occupancy for the first time since the 1990s, and “there is an amazing feeling of community now at The Belfast Center.”

“That spirit of community, however, is not just confined to this building,” he said. “And when I heard that the local VFW needed some overflow parking during their construction project, I was happy to help. Whether it is a business here at The Belfast Center or an organization in the greater community, helping foster their success when I have the opportunity to do so is just the right thing to do.”

The idea of a new building was presented to Belfast officials, Roberts said, and the VFW is now working on coming up with a preliminary plan. By the end of January, Ewing anticipates completing a floor plan and elevation to formally present to the city.

"As long as we can conform with what the city wants," he said, "we need to move forward."

"This is the first step in getting it done," Roberts said. "We've got the manpower," and added that construction would most likely not happen until April.

In the past three months, Roberts said, the VFW has provided 105 gifts for local children and Christmas dinner boxes for 25 veterans' families in collaboration with Waldo Community Action Partners. It has also collaborated with Patriot Riders of America Chapter 5 and Hannaford to provide $1,000 in gift cards to veterans for groceries.

The post has provided heating oil for three veterans' families and also helped pay electric bills for the families of two other veterans struggling to make ends meet. VFW Auxiliary volunteers delivered precooked, microwaveable meals to older veterans twice each week in a partnership with the Belfast Soup Kitchen and the post provided approximately 11 elementary students with back-to-school clothes and supplies in September.

The VFW awarded $1,500 in cash prizes to Voice of Democracy (high school) and Patriot's Pen (middle school) essay scholarship winners through its Veterans in the Classroom project last November.

Roberts said the post continues to do parades and holiday services, including Memorial  Day and Veterans Day parades, and Wreaths Across America, even though this past year events were modified because of COVID-19 restrictions.

"We've helped a lot of people,” he said, “We now need to help ourselves, so we can continue to help the community."

Anyone interested in helping the VFW post reach its financial goal for a new facility can send donations to Building Fund, 34 Field St., Belfast, ME 04915.

Stairs to the second-floor entrance of Randall Collins VFW Post 3108 and no elevator make it impossible for veterans in wheelchairs to maneuver. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
Inside VFW Post 3108, Operations Manager Jim Roberts gives a tour of the facility Dec. 22 while previous commander Steve Brown, left, rear, sits at the bar. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
Shown here Dec. 22, a first-floor closet at VFW Post 3108 is stuffed with insulation along the floor to prevent pipes from freezing. The building is built on piers that have slowly been disintegrating over the years, causing the building to shift. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
The siding of VFW Post 3108 in Belfast is patched where it touches the ground, shown here Dec. 22. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
A section of wall is cut away to access a pipe in a bathroom at VFW Post 3108 in Belfast. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
The staircase shows signs of wear at VFW Post 3108 Dec. 22. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
Holes line the wall in the stairwell at VFW Post 3108 Dec. 22. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
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