State Vets Home-Site Choice Seen This Month

By Sarah D. Wire

This article was published December 6, 2013 at 2:13 a.m.

Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs Director Cissy Rucker wants to pick a site for the new veterans home by the end of December, her spokesman said Thursday.

State law leaves the final decision of where to locate the home up to Rucker, with input from a veterans home task force created by the Legislature and from the Arkansas Veterans Commission.

Rucker closed the old Arkansas Veterans Home in Little Rock in June 2012. It would have cost an estimated $10 million to repair the 60-year-old home’s collapsed sewer lines, failing electrical system, leaky roof, and inadequate heating and air-conditioning systems.

Arkansas has had an application pending with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for a new home since the spring as lawmakers, cities and civic leaders have wrangled over where the home should be located.

On Thursday the state Veterans Affairs Department released a list of 20 locations submitted by cities vying to host the new facility and benefit from the jobs it will create.

The potential locations are in Bald Knob/Judsonia, Benton/Haskell, Clarksville, Crossett, Fordyce, Fort Chaffee, Jacksonville, Little Rock, Monticello, Mountain View, Newport, North Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Russellville, Searcy, Trumann, Vilonia and White Hall.

Jacksonville and Little Rock each submitted two locations.

The state Veterans Affairs Department is sending copies of the cities’ applications to the heads of the Veterans Commission and the Legislature’s task force, department spokesman Kelly Ferguson said.

The Arkansas Veterans Commission has called a special public meeting to discuss the locations at 10 a.m. Dec. 17 in room 130 at the state Capitol.

Rucker has asked for a recommendation from both groups by Dec. 19, Ferguson said.

“We’d like to have it done so we can have a site for the paperwork for the federal VA somewhere around the first of the year,” she said.

The U.S. Veterans Affairs Department has had the state application, with a placeholder site listed, since the spring. With state and federal funding, the state expects to have about $22 million for the project.

The state Veterans Affairs Department is also winnowing its list of design firms that could build the home, Ferguson said.

Earlier this year the 22-member task force created by the Legislature solicited applications and visited proposed sites over six months but was unable to agree on a location. Ferguson said several that had applied through the task force resubmitted information.

“We had to literally start from scratch,” Ferguson said.