Project helps public understand ‘what veterans have done’


The groundbreaking ceremony for the expanded Veterans Memorial Park took place Sept. 30. Composite photo by Roger Scruggs

The 26-year-old Veterans Memorial Center on Merritt Island is bursting at the seams. Disabled veterans sit on chairs lining a tight hallway to seek benefit guidance. Photos, documents and display cases plaster every bit of wall space. Artifacts donated to the small museum overflow into county warehouses. 

But come next summer, that overcrowding situation is expected to change. The county-owned 4,000-square-foot building is being expanded to 10,000 square feet and the adjoining 80 acres is being developed as an expansion of the now-2.6-acre Brevard County Veterans Memorial Park. 

Ground was broken Sept. 30 on the $2.7 million project and work must be completed by June 30.

The state legislature appropriated $1.5 million for the museum expansion “to support the veterans in Brevard and help the public understand what veterans have done,” explained Donn Weaver, chairman of the Brevard Veterans Council.

He’ll speak about the project and why community investment in the well-being of our returning veterans is important at the 2:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6 Veterans Salute that caps the Senior Life Boomer Bash & Senior Expo at the Exploration Tower at Port Canaveral from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Veterans Center project has three stages, Weaver said.

Construct a two-story, 6,000-square-foot addition with a three-story observation tower and wrap-around observation walkway. The addition is expected to house most of the museum’s collection on the 4,000-square-foot first floor and the remainder of the collection on a 2,000-square-foot mezzanine that will wrap around the second floor and provide an overview of the exhibits below. 

Repair still-remaining damage from the 2004 hurricane season and enhance the existing building, converting the space into a combination of veterans service center, offices for various veterans organizations and rooms to rent out for public use. 

Enhance the Veterans Memorial Plaza, which currently contains two helicopters, a tank, parts of navy ships, monuments and other items. Museums that are closing have offered to donate several large items. 

The grant covers the building but not enough to finish off the inside of the museum with furnishings and display cases, Weaver said. 

“Over the next several months we will be raising the rest of the money,” Weaver said. Some donations are in hand but fundraising will begin in earnest as soon as a detailed budget is approved. 

Brevard County owns the building and the veterans operate the facility. 

“We charge nothing for our services or museum,” Weaver said.

Don Walker, communications director for Brevard County, said the park project is being paid for by an $800,000 Community Trust Fund grant and $400,000 of county money through the Merritt Island Redevelopment Agency. The expansion includes building two stormwater lakes designed to also be used for fishing and kayaking, walking trails, a picnic pavilion, and freshwater and saltwater wetlands.

And, there are tentative plans to provide a permanent display site for the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall that is owned by the Vietnam and All Veterans of Brevard.

“The fact that there can be a major expansion rests on the hard work, sacrifice and efforts of many veterans in Brevard County,” Weaver said. 

For more information on the project, call 321-453-1776, and for more information on the Veterans Salute, call 321-242-1235.