In 2015, the nonprofit service organizations housed in the New Richmond Community Commons building were notified that the structure would be demolished within the year. It was no longer deemed safe for the tenants or affordable to maintain. The historic 1926 building had originally served as a school and then became a central access point for numerous service organizations. The tenants included VFW Post 10818, a Senior Center, the Five Loaves Food Shelf, Community Education outreach and others. All were forced to move to separate facilities and faced higher costs, compromising the services they provide to populations in need.
Taking a leadership role to address this challenge, Post 10818 proposed the idea of a new community center as a permanent home for the displaced organizations and others.
The proposal gained immediate support from community leaders.
2015-2020: Initial discussions with the City of New Richmond regarding the development of a new facility in Freedom Park began in 2015. In addition to providing offices and a new meeting space for the VFW, city representatives endorsed the addition of a conference space and a center for seniors.
VFW volunteers immediately began fundraising in the local community. By 2020, the Post had accumulated $200,000 in donations toward the Center. In 2018 the City of New Richmond officially transferred the land in Freedom Park to VFW Post 10818.
As the initial designs were underway, Post 10818 engaged a local military unit to help with the construction of a new access road to the building site. This successful effort demonstrated the potential of military assistance for the project.
Post officials then initiated conversations with the Department of Defense (DOD) in Washington DC to seek full support for the project through the Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) program. In this unique partnership, the DOD provides skilled military personnel who train under the supervision of local contractors and city officials at no cost to the project. The DOD provides labor, equipment, fuel, food and lodging for the personnel. In 2019, the DOD approved the request and granted support for construction of the Center.
Post 10818 is one of only three Posts in the U.S. to have an IRT partnership for building construction, and it is the largest IRT project of any kind in the state of Wisconsin.
The IRT contribution aligns with the VFW’s support of military personnel, for the project will offer soldiers a real-world construction project where they can cross-train on the core competencies involved in the building trades, working with professional contractors and city officials. At the same time as they develop their construction skills, they make a lasting contribution to their communities. Over the course of the project, over 1000 active-duty military personnel, both men and women, will learn skills that will prepare them for successful careers.
The complex arrangement is customized to the needs of each phase of construction and brings together soldiers from across the region. To-date, work has been completed by the 372nd Engineer Brigade from Fort Snelling, MN; the 652nd Engineer Company from Hammond, WI; and the 612th Engineer Detachment from Duluth, MN. Local partners include Derrick Building Solutions, Countryside Plumbing and Heating, County Materials, Simon Electric and others, all working in concert with city officials.
2020: To establish how the military personnel, civilian contractors and city officials will work together, the VFW conducted a second small-scale construction effort in the summer of 2020. Soldiers from the 652nd Engineer Company extended the walking trails in Freedom Park, which will be easily accessible by the users of the Center. The military successfully completed this project under the supervision of city staff and contractors. Most important, this work established the procedures needed to coordinate all the participating organizations and demonstrated that the VFW and its partners can effectively manage the DOD resources.
2021: In May, military personnel from the 652nd Engineer Company completed the walking trails. In August, the 612th Engineer Utilities Detachment from Duluth elevated the topography of the building site by 8 feet using fill donated by the Canadian National Railroad, valued at $100,000, and readied the site for the next phase of construction.
2022: In 2022, units of the 367th Engineering Battalion, from St. Cloud, MN and the 461st Engineering Utilities Detachment from Fargo, ND laid the building foundation and excavated a 1000-foot trench to connect the building site to municipal sewer, water and electrical service.
2023: The 372nd Engineer Brigade from Fort Snelling, MN and other units continued construction, completing foundation and walls, roofing and sheathing. Freedom Park Center is scheduled to be completed in 2024 and open to the public in 2025.