A SERIES OF UPGRADES to the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building were approved by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, including the installation of air conditioning. 

Board members unanimously voted Aug. 22 for a list of projects that will make the building more energy-efficient, such as a solar-covered parking lot and new LED lighting throughout the building. 

Energy savings are projected to cover the cost of the $3.5 million project over the lifespan of the equipment, as well as an additional roughly $1.1 million in financing costs, according to a presentation to the board from Barbara Lee, director of climate action and resiliency for the county. 

About half of the funding will come from the county’s Climate Resilience Fund, which was established in 2021 with settlement money from PG&E related to wildfires in 2017.  

Another roughly $1 million could come from a PG&E program called Sustainable Solutions Turnkey, which helps large customers identify and finance ways to make their operations more energy efficient. 

A backup battery storage system and upgrades to the building’s energy management system will also make the building more resilient to climate change and ready to withstand power outages. A natural gas heater is being replaced by an electric one. 

“Today’s investment will ensure this 75-year-old building continues to serve the public, in good times and bad, well into the future.”

Chris Coursey, Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

Multiple board members noted the building’s use as an evacuation shelter and said that the improvements, notably the air conditioning, would make it more resilient during emergencies and ready to be used as a cooling center during heat events. 

“The Veterans Memorial Building is the largest public assembly facility of its kind in Sonoma County, used daily by our military veterans and many other community groups,” said board chair Chris Coursey. 

“It also plays a critical role during disasters, serving as a regional evacuation hub and emergency shelter. Today’s investment will ensure this 75-year-old building continues to serve the public, in good times and bad, well into the future,” Coursey said. 

Multiple veterans said during the public hearing that they were supportive of the energy improvements, but that further work was needed. 

“It’s going to improve that building quite a bit,” said Lou Nunez, a member of the county’s Veterans Advisory Committee

Nunez said the building hosts around 80 events a month and is used daily by veterans and the public. But he added that the building was in need of a paint job. 

Ken Holybee, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 223, also said during the public hearing that the work would make the building better for holding events.

“I think these improvements to the building will be a big plus for the veterans. It would show the veterans in the community that you do care about them and also make it more usable for events for veterans,” Holybee said. 

Plans to replace windows with more energy-efficient ones were scrapped because there is asbestos in the building’s stucco, Lee said.  

The 110.7-kilowatt solar photovoltaic carport will cover 28 parking spaces north of the building. The project will install infrastructure needed for future electric vehicle charging stations, which will require further funding. 

The upgrades together are expected to save 157,920 kilowatt-hours of electricity and 1,770 therms of natural gas annually, according to county projections.