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Future Uncertain for Vets Hall

news_vetsCommunity hopes for a speedy reopening

Much to the shock of local community members, county officials announced on Thursday, Jan. 21, that as of 5 p.m., the Santa Cruz Veterans Memorial Building would be closed indefinitely.

The announcement came after an architect and a structural engineer toured the building and recommended its immediate closure, stating in a report that it “presents a significant risk of injury or death to the occupants of the auditorium should a seismic event occur.” A week earlier, the building’s manager, Tim Brattan, had noticed loose falling stucco and requested a site assessment. The County Facilities Superintendent conducted a safety inspection, and the potential issues they identified prompted them to issue a purchase order for the structural assessment.

Hall officials plan to oversee more testing of the building, including its steel and concrete, and the soil in which it sits. As of press time, they were accepting bids from parties interested in conducting the tests.

The Veterans Memorial Building, built in 1932, is a registered historical landmark and home to many vital veteran services, including an integrative health program and an emergency radio station. In addition to veterans’ services, the building also houses over 40 weekly yoga classes and various events from concerts to drum circles to contra dancing. The building boasts a ballroom, banquet room, yoga studios, kitchen, and various rooms that can be rented by the public for various events. According to the building’s website, it “operates as a nonprofit venue providing space to the community for meetings, classes, workshops, concerts, dance productions and other performing arts events.”

For the present, the Veterans Services Office has been relocated to the third floor of Building K at 1400 Emeline Ave. In a phone message, Cecilia Espinola, director of the county’s Human Services Department, told Good Times that “full staff services are available.” She also mentions that the weekly van transport they provide for veterans to the Palo Alto Medical Center will resume on Feb. 8. She urges anyone in need of other services to call the office at their new number, 454-4761. They will still return voicemails left at their old number.

As for the other goings on of the building, an email sent by Brattan on the day of the closure states that “all classes and events here are cancelled until further notice.” Yoga instructor Maria Alfaro has been teaching a Wednesday evening class at the Veterans Memorial Building for about 10 years, but says that she and the other instructors are taking the news pretty well.

“Well, anybody who teaches yoga is kind of calm,” she laughs. “But everybody is looking for other places to go. Others are more greatly affected [than myself] because they teach more classes there. The common desire is that the place reopens as soon as possible.” She mentions that other yoga studios have sent emails offering support and opportunities to teach at their studio. Since Alfaro’s class is during a popular time spot, it’s unlikely she will find another studio where she can instruct. But her main concern is for the veterans. “This is the only place for vets to go,” she says. “I’m more concerned about the vets because without it they don’t have anywhere.”

Gordon echoes Alfaro’s hopes for a timely reopening of the building. “My goal here is to find a repair strategy,” says Gordon. “The building is important to the community. We’re not at all oblivious to the significance here.”

At this point, county officials are not able or willing to predict the future of the building. “It’s too early to tell,” says Director of General Services Nancy Gordon. “Further analysis is needed to determine the full scope of the issues. But I remain optimistic and hopeful that we’ll be able to find a solution.”

More will be known on March 16, when the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors will meet to hear a status report. According to Gordon, future possibilities will depend on study findings.

“No decisions are being made [currently],” she says. “I know there are a lot of rumors out there but we really don’t know much at this time. Again, I remain hopeful that we will find a resolution.”

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