John Haynes Memorial Veterans Hall in Garberville circa 2017. Image via Google Maps.


It’s been over six years since the county shuttered the John Haynes Memorial Veterans Hall in Garberville — a once-vibrant gathering spot for Southern Humboldt residents — due to an infestation of black mold, a proliferation of toxic materials including lead and asbestos, along with other structural deficiencies following years of deferred maintenance. 

The building sat for years before, in June of 2021, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted to demolish and reconstruct a slightly smaller version of the original building. Today, the board unanimously agreed to execute a contract with Medford-based architectural firm ORW Architecture, Inc., to design the new building.

The entire project is expected to clock in at approximately $3,087,325, which includes hazardous materials abatement, demolition and design of a new veterans hall. The two-year consultant services agreement with ORW Architecture will cost the county an estimated $315,000 in funding from the county’s 2020 Finance Plan. 

During the ensuing board discussion, Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson, who requested the item to be pulled from the consent calendar for further discussion, asked whether staff had sought partners to help fund the project.

“I think that we also owe it to our, you know, the citizenry as a whole in the county to make sure that we are reducing the debt on something like this,” Wilson said. “Right now, the plan is for financing this at the tune of three or three-and-a-half million dollars … with interest rates – as we see it – [of] $250,000 a year for 20 years. … I just want to make sure that we’re looking at programming elements to this that are pretty broad … and if we’re programming all of these things, that [there are] a lot of external touchpoints with real relationships to other potential partner agencies.”

Public Works Director Tom Mattson reminded the board that the subject before them was “really just the award of the architectural contract” and said his department would look into Wilson’s request but said, “We don’t have that specialty in Public Works.”

“Doing that kind of fundraising is really a special job,” Mattson said. “It’s more than just being an engineer, it’s being the kind of person who can get out in the community, can meet with all the different groups. We just don’t have that capability within Public Works, frankly. It probably exists within the county somewhere. I think it’s a good idea, but I think it’s something we need to come back and discuss with the board on a completely separate agenda item.”

Wilson felt the architectural agreement should be informed by the needs of the agencies and organizations that will be offering services in the new building, not decided after the agreement is already signed. “Otherwise, it’s just drawing lines on paper and guessing,” he said.

“If that needs assessment and that programmatic element is looking at things that will have a nexus with [the Department of Health and Human Services] DHHS or [the Office of Emergency Services] OES, in terms of offering spaces for those things …  that’s the moment when we ask those programs and those partners ‘Do you have funding to assist in the capital part [of this project]?’ because that’s generally where you do [or] do not get the funding,” Wilson said. “I feel that this is the moment where we do that on this project.”

Mattson said he understood where Wilson was coming from, adding that he and his staff would reach out to Southern Humboldt veterans to see what they need and seek additional funding sources accordingly.

Second District Supervisor Michelle Bushnell, who has made the vets hall a top priority since she first ran for office, noted that there has already been a lot of outreach in Southern Humboldt to determine the needs of the community.

“The veterans have disclosed to us what the building was used previously for and … how they could get rents to pay the utilities and pay those types of things,” she said. “We have talked about a cold weather shelter because it would be a county facility, possibly an emergency shelter for [public safety power shutoffs] or any kind of emergency shelter. Don’t think that work hasn’t been done, Supervisor Wilson.”

Bushnell emphasized that she would not want to prolong the process any further. “That is something I don’t want to see and the community doesn’t want to see,” she said.

Fourth District Supervisor Natalie Arroyo also urged staff to look at other potential funding opportunities for the project through OES or the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“As a fellow veteran, I think having a space for veterans is really important. I appreciate all the things that this can provide for the community and I also can appreciate the comment around seeking additional funding,” she said. “The Eureka Veterans Hall, I know the county participated in that project. There was another, I think, $7 million in grant funding from [OES] that helped with that. And similar to the Garberville facility, it was in disrepair for many years and then had to be closed to the public as a result.”

Mattson noted that “you can only apply for so many [grant] earmarks and you will only get a certain amount,” but said his staff would be willing to look into it. 

“If the board wishes to prioritize that we could do that for the next round [of federal grant funds], but I would highly recommend we stick with trying to get funds for our roads, because we have half a billion dollars in deferred maintenance on our roads – much, much less on our buildings,” he said. “So, no, we have not explored that. It would have to compete with all the other county priorities that everybody puts together for the earmarks because we are only going to get a certain amount of earmarks.”

First District Supervisor Rex Bohn quipped that the board has “this wonderful knack of stretching things out forever” and, like Bushnell, emphasized the need to move forward with the contract agreement.

“We’re worrying about what kind of frosting we’re going to put on this cake and we can’t even get the damn cake built,” he said. “I don’t want to say it’s completely our fault that we didn’t maintain [the Garberville vets hall] because I always said, ‘Couldn’t you guys have done something?’ but there’s nothing there now. … We’ve made a lot of promises but we haven’t fulfilled any of them.”

Bohn indicated that he wanted to make a motion to move forward with staff’s recommendation but was asked to hold off on the action by Fifth District Supervisor and Board Chair Steve Madrone, who prefers to hear from the public beforehand. Wilson indicated that he would second the motion when the time came.

Several Southern Humboldt community members spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, all of whom urged the board to move forward with the architectural agreement. Garberville veteran Doug Battles said he respected the board’s effort to find additional funding opportunities for the project but said, “It’s kind of like putting the cart before the horse.”

“You need to keep the process going,” he said. “I understand the situation but just don’t put, you know, something in there that’s going to stop any kind of evolution that it could go through right now. It would probably cause another year’s delay and we can’t afford that.”

Ryan Derby, manager of the Humboldt OES team and local veteran, emphasized the importance of veterans halls and said he would be happy to be involved in the project scoping phase of the project.

“Vets’ buildings play a really critical role in our community,” he said. “It’s an outlet for camaraderie. These people, they have a dedication to service, they have a dedication to loyalty and integrity, and if we show that towards them, they’re going to reciprocate it.”

Following public comment, Bushnell made a motion to move forward with staff’s recommendation and authorize Public Works to execute an agreement with ORW Architecture to design the new vets hall. As promised, Wilson offered a second to the motion.

The motion passed 5-0.