By Paul Tennant
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — Freedom prevailed.
During the last few weeks, several names were suggested for the veterans housing that’s taking shape at 138 High St., but when it came time for a decision, the Patriotic Observance Committee voted unanimously Wednesday night to call it Freedom House.
Freedom House is the first housing for veterans that has been built in North Andover for more than 50 years. Wednesday, John Ratka, director of the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center, gave committee members a tour of the building before they met to decide on the name.
The center, which manages many homes for veterans in Haverhill, bought the house at 138 High St. last year. When the center bought the house, it was vacant, rundown and in foreclosure. A.J. Wood Construction is renovating the house and Ratka said he’s confident the work will be done by June 14, Flag Day, when Veterans Services Officer Ed Mitchell, Ted Tripp, chairman of the Patriotic Observance Committee and other members of that panel hope to dedicate the home.
A two-bedroom apartment will be located on the first floor, while a three-bedroom apartment will be on the second and third floors. The bedrooms of the latter apartment will be on the top floor.
A third apartment, with one bedroom, will be located in an addition that will be constructed to the left of the building as one faces it. The veterans who live at 138 High St. will pay affordable rents, Ratka said.
Last year’s annual Town Meeting approved $461,894 for the project. Financial support has also come from North Andover home funds, money provided by the federal government that’s distributed by the state; and the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center, Ratka said.
Tripp, Mitchell and other veterans advocates want to see at least another dozen homes for veterans built in the next few years. Mitchell has often said that many returning veterans find that it’s too expensive for them to live in North Andover.
When it came to the name of the house, Joe Edward Smith, who represents Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2104 on the committee, said he was “leaning toward” Freedom House. Smith, who served as a U.S. Army infantryman in Germany during the Cold War, said last week he would have supported naming the home for an individual who had served in the military.
He said he changed his mind, however, after hearing an impassioned plea by David Swarbrick last week. Swarbrick, a Lawrence firefighter who lives in North Andover, is an Army reservist who has done several tours in Afghanistan.
The recipient of two Bronze Stars, he told the committee “there is nothing more important than freedom.”
Michael Wilson, who served in the Marines between 2003 and 2007 and was deployed to Iraq in 2006, said he did not think the home should honor “a specific name.” Calling it Freedom House, he said, seemed like “a really good idea.”
Robert Turner, a Vietnam War veteran who served in the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Division and fought in the Mekong Delta, reiterated the view he and Swarbrick expressed last week: That the residence should be called Freedom House because defending liberty is not about one individual but rather many people who put their lives on the line.