Fulfilling Lincoln’s promise: New Wichita Veterans Benefits Administration regional office space designed with mission in mind
On October 2, the Veterans Benefits Administration Regional Office in Wichita opened its relocated office space on East Douglas Avenue. The move, in the works since 2020, relocated offices from the Robert Dole VA Medical Center.
Welcoming veterans, their families, and the employees that serve them, the space was selected and designed with care at every step of the way by the DVA as they partnered with their General Services Administration team to select, plan, design, and execute the move.
After initially considering remodeling space within the VA Medical Center, there was a decision to “Find a location relatively close to the VA Medical Center that would be more accessible in the sense of parking (for veterans and employees),” said DVA Director Donna Meyer-Hickel, “So it’s easier for veterans to access the building and the public contact area as well as the service organizations.”
Lease Contracting Officer Nick Freeman wrote, “The Acquisitions team’s primary focus was on finding the VBA a larger space outside of the Robert Dole medical center to meet their growing needs as an agency and to ensure that veterans have access to an up to date and accessible facility complete with modern amenities and support.”
From the outset, GSA Leasing Division Project Manager Chris Bruton was impressed by how seriously the VBA took its commitment to the community it serves.
In addition to the larger task of finding an accessible building, “Every step of the way, they were always putting the veterans first … the layout of an office … the way the furniture was going to be in the office, how someone would interact with that furniture down to the detail of the chair rail height ... I mean, anything you could think of, we put in the perspective of ‘How could this affect our client and how would they interact with it and what’s best?’ “ Bruton said.
“Their whole office was involved (in the process) from the director to managers and each of their teams,” said Bruton. “It was a real team effort. They really cared about the space and how it would be…it was refreshing.”
“We had a very specific approach,” Meyer-Hickel said. “We wanted the first visual (building entrants see) to represent the respect that we have for veterans.”
Care was also taken to incorporate images and design elements that reflected the region’s Kansas location.
“Wichita’s history is in that building,” DVA’s Project Management and Program Analyst Karlena Jones said. “They really took the time to put Kansas history in the building.”
Sunflowers, references to Wichita as the Air Capital of the World, and lots of yellows to help lighten the space were all incorporated into the design.
Employees were also considered in the design of the space.
“One of the other reasons we looked at finding a new location is to make sure that not only veterans felt like they were important, but the employees feel like they’re important,” Meyer-Hickel said. “It’s hard being a federal employee sometimes.”
In addition to ensuring each employee has a height-adjustable desk, the large, bright space has windows along one wall and zoned lighting to allow for dimming in certain areas.
Employees were also included in the design process for some wall artwork.
Meyer-Hickel was thrilled with a word cloud lining the walls. “We got all the employees to submit words that held meaning to them about what they do and what it is to provide service to veterans,” she said.
These words were put up on the wall with clouds in the background. The bigger and darker the word is, the more times it was used. “It’s really their input on the project,” said Meyer-Hickel.
In other areas, walls reflect President Lincoln, including the quote:
“To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military and for their families, caregivers, and survivors.”
“We have a really important mission to take care of veterans and their families,” said Meyer-Hickel. “Designing internal spaces to reflect the mission of the organization and the support they provide helps underscore this.”
Since opening, “We’re enjoying the space - the veterans are, the employees are,” Meyer-Hickel said. “All the kudos for GSA…it’s just a very welcoming place for everyone.”
The project was the result of a partnership, Jones said.
Despite the interruption of the pandemic, the project “Didn’t have as many hiccups as I expected,“ said Jones. “We (VBA and GSA) worked so closely together…we were constantly in communication.”
“Being able to work on a project that serves those who have given and sacrificed for all of us was very rewarding,” said GSA’s Construction Control Representative Rick Ballinger. “I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of this project.”
Veterans and their families can visit the VBA Administrative Regional Office to meet in-person staff who will answer any questions veterans and their families may have. They can also meet with veterans service office organizations for assistance with claims, finding employment, and other services.