VA’s new fence cost a lot, but elegance sometimes is worth the price

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above.
Don’t fence me in.
— Cole Porter

SALISBURY — It’s not exactly the Great Wall of China or the Walls of Jericho, but you can’t help but notice the new fence at the Hefner VA Medical Center.
During its construction, many people would drive by on Brenner Avenue, no doubt scratching their heads and wondering how much we taxpayers were spending on this lengthy fence of brick, aluminum, concrete, stone and gates.
And was it meant to keep folks in or out?
The cost, by the way, was $643,901, which includes the fence you see on Brenner Avenue and columns and gates at two other entrances on Statesville Boulevard and Hedrick Street.
As fences in Salisbury go, this one is fancy-smancy or, I probably should say, fency-smency. It’s worthy of an institutional campus.
Salisbury’s newest wall extends along Brenner Avenue for 2,100 feet — the same as seven football fields, or about four-tenths of a mile. That’s $306 a foot, if my calculations are correct.
Workers poured 67 concrete footers, which were 3 feet in depth with rebar included. The project also required a lot of trenching for electrical and communications conduit.
The segments of aluminum fencing between the brick pillars are 8 feet high.
The brick pillars have cobblestone caps, and 14 of the pillars have ornamental, LED lights on top.
The 90-foot-wide main entrance has a motorized gate, with 45-foot segments on each side. You might also notice a pedestrian gate and maintenance gate, besides the motorized versions at the Hedrick Street and Statesville Boulevard entrances.
The Hedrick Street and pedestrian gates close at 6 p.m.; the Statesville Boulevard gate, 9 p.m.
The main vehicle entrance on Brenner Avenue stays open 24 hours a day. So unless there’s an emergency, the general public has around-the-clock access to the VA Medical Center campus.
We’re not being fenced out, but the new additions give the medical center the ability to lock down the whole campus, if the need should ever arise.
Carol Waters, public affairs officer for the Hefner VA Medical Center, checked with her higher-ups these last couple of days to determine exactly why the fence was built.
That sounds like the height of bureaucracy — to build a fence, then ask why — but Waters was just wanting to be correct.
She knew it wasn’t an economic stimulus project. Was it a Homeland Security directive? Are all VA campuses taking similar security measures? Or did the VA think the Salisbury campus would just look better with a decorative fence?
Well, it’s all those reasons. Waters says VA facilities are being encouraged to establish more permanent and physical boundaries. The new fence makes the VA more attractive, she contends, and connects with more utilitarian fencing on other sides of the 150-acre campus’ boundaries.
“The fence is a way of protecting the safety of veterans, staff and others,” Waters says.
Construction projects at the VA are funded separately, and Waters says they “do not impact” the hospital’s health-care budget for veterans’ care.
“The fence is a win-win situation for everyone,” Waters adds, “in that the fence is decorative and blends in well with the surrounding architecture and enhances security at the facility.”
I could sit here and take potshots at the VA’s new fence. I could complain about the cost, the elaborateness, even the reason for building one in the first place.
But I appreciate the VA’s gesture of building a wall with character, style and durability, rather than going with a chain-link fence with razor-wire at the top. It simply shows respect to the citizens of Salisbury and the veterans the hospital serves.
The security at the hospital also is enhanced.
We live in a time when taxpayers tend to think every government edifice should have the architectural integrity of a metal box.
Everybody — judging from what I’ve heard and read — would prefer a new central school office built from mobile homes stacked on top of each other. Or they think it should go in another kind of box, like an old mall.
Fess up. You’ve said it, too, when it comes to the VA’s fence: “Think of all the good that could have been accomplished with the money wasted in building that wall.”
But I disagree this time. Every now and then, it’s nice to leave the next generation more than chain links and razor wire.
Every now and then, I can live with fency-smency.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or