Canandaigua, New York – Another milestone was recently reached on the Canandaigua VA Medical Center construction project as the USACE team was able to turnover the Phase 1 facilities back to the Department of Veterans Affairs Canandaigua VA Medical Center.
The work taking place at the Canandaigua VA Medical Center is currently allotted into three phases. Phase 1 included demolition of Building 2, construction of an Outpatient Clinic, a Chilled Water/Emergency Power Plant, new power and water systems, and temporary Laboratory and Main Kitchen to support ongoing healthcare operations throughout the nearly six-year construction period.
Gerry DiPaola, USACE Project Manager for the Canandaigua VA Medical Center construction, attributed success thus far to the teamwork and dedication of the entire Project Delivery Team.
“Over the past six years, the number of team members working tirelessly towards this milestone, including those that have moved on from the project, is impressive. They have overcome many challenges to ensure the work in Phase 1 was able to be completed,” he said. “I want to acknowledge the efforts of our CFM partners, working together, to bring this project to reality for the Veterans of the Finger Lakes region.”
Matthew Lowe, Chief of the Veterans Affairs Division for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District, agreed that partnership has been key to the success of the project.
“Renovating and upgrading a VA medical center influences multiple stakeholders with a variety of interests and issues to navigate. It was very encouraging to have everyone involved working together to ensure success for this project,” he added. “The VA team, both CFM and the Canandaigua Medical Center have been instrumental in working through challenges and unknowns throughout these projects. I believe any success on the project is directly tied to the partnership having a mutual interest and overall goal of delivering for our Veterans.”
DiPaola said there are many issues that need to be considered when working on an active medical facility’s campus.
“One key consideration is to be able to have an active functioning medical center, in other words, maintaining patient services and seeing them with minimal disruption to their normal routine while the work was taking place,” he said. “It’s a great accomplishment - keeping the existing facility up in operation while constructing new infrastructure and renovating the existing.”
The work being done at the Canandaigua VA Medical Center is possible due to recommendations from the Department of Veterans Affairs Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) study, which identified that some decades-old facilities were being underutilized.
“This project enhances the use of the current VA Medical Center in Canandaigua. A study was conducted by the VA and it identified an underutilization of facilities at Canandaigua and so to improve services and Veteran access, planners at the Department of Veterans Affairs called for a modern and consolidated outpatient clinic - a 21st-century outpatient clinic - along with community living center complex, to include cottages and community center, to provide housing to veterans that would benefit from an assisted living type of environment,” DiPaola explained. “So basically, the project improves the delivery of healthcare by consolidating infrastructure and clinical services under one roof and enhances the assisted living care type of facility.”
Lowe said he is proud to be a part of this project that will benefit thousands of Veterans for years to come.
“For over 25 years, I’ve had the pleasure to be involved with new construction, renovated facilities and infrastructure projects on various military installations, but VA projects are special. You are proud to be part of something that supports and takes care of our Veterans,” he shared. “In a small way, all of us working these projects get to serve the men and women who were willing to sacrifice it all for our country. It’s humbling and I’m grateful to be part of what we’re doing to benefit Veterans.”
The Canandaigua VA Medical Center project includes the construction of a new 84,000 square foot Outpatient Clinic, a new chiller/emergency generator plant, renovates 85,000 square feet of existing facility space, and upgrades of existing roadways and site utilities as well as the construction of eight cottages comprising 96 individual rooms in a neighborhood like setting and a community center.
These state-of-the-art facilities were designed to blend seamlessly into the existing historical campus and provide world-class healthcare to approximately 65,000 Veterans living in the greater Finger Lakes region.
Capt. Vinh Dao has been on a long journey both distance- and experience-wise since his family immigrated to the United States in the 1990s. It’s a journey that he continues to navigate using lessons from his family and as an Army officer.
Dao’s family came to America from Vietnam when he was four years old, bringing with them a history that was quite different from those in their new homeland.
“We came to the U.S. and settled in Indianapolis in 1992 under the Humanitarian Operations sub-program of the Orderly Departure Program. Under this program, former re-education camp prisoners from the Vietnam War were allowed to be resettled in the U.S.,” he said. “My dad had served as an infantry officer in the South Vietnamese Army from 1968 until the end of the war in 1975. Once the war ended, the North Vietnamese started rounding up all the Officers from the South Vietnamese military and put them in these so-called “re-education” camps.”
“From his stories and what I’ve read about these camps, there wasn’t much education going on at these places. He spent nine years of his life in one of those camps. Because of that, our family was eligible to be in that program. We settled in Indianapolis because we had some relatives here that sponsored us,” Tao added.
Tao and his family have since learned to appreciate aspects of both their Vietnamese and American culture over the years.
“I was raised speaking Vietnamese in the house, eating Vietnamese food, and listening to Vietnamese music. My parents were also Buddhist, so we had an altar in the house with my grandparents’ pictures and visited the local temple occasionally,” he said. “As I’ve gotten older, I don’t really visit the temple anymore, but I still love the food and listen to Vietnamese music. I still take my dad to get Vietnamese food whenever I’m home. I also still listen to the same music that they listened to as I was growing up. It’s mainly music written during the Vietnam War years. It’s relaxing and nostalgic.”
Tao, who is now an engineering officer for the U.S. Army, said he feels that his and his parents’ cultural values were instrumental in making him who he is today.
“This is going to sound like the typical cliché answer, but my parents have always pushed me to work hard in school. They wanted me to do well so I can get a good education and succeed in life,” he said. “They kept pushing me because they felt that if we were still in Vietnam, because of my dad’s background, I would not have been given the opportunity to succeed. I would not have been given the opportunity for an education nor would I be able to get a good job over there.”
“They knew we have a great opportunity here in the U.S., so they weren’t going to let me waste it. Because of how they’ve raised me, I still try to work hard to ensure that I don’t waste the opportunities I’ve been given,” he added.
Tao has served in a number of roles for the Army since commissioning as an Army officer through the ROTC program at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in 2011.
“I’ve served in the typical positions expected of an Army officer such as platoon leader, executive officer, and company commander. Those roles were more leadership focused,” he said. “I’ve also been on a battalion staff as the assistant operations officer, then as the operations and plans officer at the Army Corps level, not to be confused with the Corps of Engineers. These roles were more planning-focused in support of the subordinate units that were executing the missions.”
He's currently serving as a Construction Control Representative for the Louisville District working on the Louisville VA Medical Center project.
“I’m working in the Quality Assurance section of the Veteran Affairs Division. The other USACE representatives and I review the project drawings and specifications then inspect and work with the contractors to ensure they are in compliance with the contract,” he explained. “It’s exciting to be working on an almost $1 billion VA hospital. It is much different here than working in a military environment, but I’ve learned a great deal about reading and interpreting drawings and specifications and the overall construction processes.”
“Even with all I’ve learned, there’s still a ton I’m learning every day from the two quality assurance leads. Working with civilian contractors every day has been a great experience,” he added.
He said he feels the experience he is gaining working for the district will benefit him in the future.
“Working for USACE is not an opportunity every engineer officer gets in their career. These positions are actually pretty low on the Army’s priority list to fill compared to the operational units,” Tao said. “Being here now, I believe it will give me a higher chance of being able to come back later in my career. All of the knowledge and experience I’m gaining now will also be beneficial when I transition over to a civilian career.”