Four years after state officials turned out the lights and locked the doors, a former medium-security state prison in Hempfield may be poised to become a full-service veterans transition center.
David Goldsmith, the Carlisle businessman who bought the 300,000-square-foot facility in 2015, first broached the possibility in a regional construction publication and a YouTube video last year. http://veteranssunrisecenter.com/
This month, Goldsmith and his son, Rhett, who have been making contacts quietly and rolling out plans for the facility, posted a new sign at the entrance to the 96-acre complex declaring it the future home of the Greensburg Sunrise Veterans Center.
The sign also bannered the involvement of a new player: Stantec.
A publicly traded international professional services firm with expertise in engineering, architecture and project management, Stantec lists involvement with 20 projects for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Locally, Stantec has worked on projects for UPMC, Excela Health and Carnegie Mellon University, among others.
Stantec's Robert Wright, project director for the proposed veterans center, said he is compiling a site assessment of the property off Route 119 with an eye toward Goldsmith's vision of a comprehensive veterans transition center, including housing, health care and job-training facilities.
“The assessment will continue on through 2017. The assessment is to determine what the attributes of the existing buildings and site are for that type of development,” Wright said.
Goldsmith did not return a call for comment and has yet to disclose plans for financing what was previously estimated to be a three-year, $150 million project.
Officials with the Pennsylvania American Legion have said nothing on the scale Goldsmith proposed exists in Pennsylvania, which is home to nearly 1 million veterans, including more than 140,000 in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties.
Hempfield Manager Andrew Walz said officials there have yet to receive any information regarding the proposed facility.
County commissioners, however, said Wright and the Goldsmiths have met with them and county Veterans Affairs Director Matt Zamosky several times, most recently several weeks ago. They've outlined preliminary plans for a facility that could bring as many as 600 jobs to the region, should it reach fruition.
Commission Chairwoman Gina Cerilli and Commissioner Ted Kopas said they are cautiously optimistic that the plan could be a boost for the region and for thousands of veterans cycling out of service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Certainly, the progress is most encouraging. I've been a big fan and champion of the concept since they first unveiled it,” Kopas said.
Cerilli said the proposed center could help on two fronts: by providing jobs and by training veterans for jobs in skilled trades here that experts say may go begging in the next five years.
Cerilli and Kopas said neither Wright nor the Goldsmiths have sought assistance from the county.
“It's very exciting,” Cerilli said. “I know they've reached out to state and federal leaders, and we're keeping our fingers crossed that they will get the approvals they need at the federal level.”
The project is receiving support.
“The proposed Veterans Sunrise Center is only in the early development phase,” said U.S. Rep Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, “but I'm interested in learning more because we need more services for veterans in Westmoreland County and this full-service veterans' transition campus could be a big win for our veterans.”