Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Herke outlined some veterans home design changes that will need to be made to stay within the current budget during a meeting at Preston City Hall on October 9. He updated local officials and Veterans Home Committee members on the proposed veterans home in Preston.
Herke has served in this position since January 2019. The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs serves 318,000 veterans in Minnesota. There are currently five veterans homes in the state; four are skilled nursing facilities. There are three veterans cemeteries and there may be a fourth in the future in Redwood County.
Herke served 31 years in the military and retired at the rank of Colonel. During his last five years of military service he worked in construction management. Herke said Governor Tim Walz is totally supportive of this project, as is Rep. Greg Davids.
The project was submitted for federal matching funds on March 25. At this point there is conditional approval as all requirements for the project have been met. The U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs will look at the designs. A determination has been made that there is nothing historically significant on the site.
This project and the other two projects from Minnesota (Bemidji and Montevideo) will compete with proposed projects submitted from other states and renovation projects for federal funding. The usual distribution is $90 million. However, the Veterans Administration has requested up to $150 million for distribution.
Herke said they have received inquiries from the VA which is a positive sign. He expects official notification in January/February 2020.
The scope of the Preston project had to be reduced due to budget restraints. Building supplies, materials, and labor costs have increased. Herke detailed what he referred to as “value engineering.” There will be no reduction in the number of rooms (54) or the size of rooms for residents.
The reductions were focused on common spaces and the elimination of some exterior amenities, which can be added on later. Parking areas have been reduced and the planned access road has been eliminated for now. The length of that planned road and excavation necessary could cost about $1.4 million. Herke explained reductions that have been outlined would have cost about $7 million. The access to the veterans home at this time is planned to come across city owned property (the access currently used to get to the site). Some offices will also be combined and one room will have a movable wall to serve both as a theatre and a community room.
The good news is these tweaks have made the project once again within budget.
Some features from teh origianal design could be included in the plan once again with an additional $4 million. Right now federal money is locked in. Any additional funding will have to come from state or local sources. A little over $4 million of additional funding could allow for a canopy extension, two season porches, a transfer garage, a steel roof (preferable over asphalt shingles), trash enclosure, and a maintenance garage. Other outside amenities could include the planned access road, additional parking, an outdoor plaza, picnic shelter, more sidewalks, and pergolas to shade windows.
The facility is to be 60,606 square feet, which is almost a 6,000 square foot reduction. Mayor Kurt Reicks asked how the schedule would be affected if the state legislated an additional $4 million for the project. Project manager Bee Yang said this could be accomplished with a change order and would not affect the schedule.
Cathy Enerson, Community and Economic Development Associates, asked about the projected time line. Herke said they are shooting for occupancy of the home in January 2022.
The facility will be ADA compliant all around. Herke added the intent is to add some amenities back if there is additional state funding.
The facility, when in operation, is expected to provide 79 full-time equivalent jobs. It is estimated that there will be about 130 part-time and full-time employees. Councilman Robert Maust asked about the annual payroll. Douglas Hughes, Deputy Commissioner-Veterans Healthcare, estimated the annual payroll for the veterans home staff will be $5.7 million. The actual total annual payroll for operation and servicing of the facility will be close to $12 million. The hiring process will start approximately six months prior to opening.
Those eligible to reside in the facility include eligible veterans, their spouses, and Gold Star parents.
Enerson summarized the city’s housing study and a plan to add 167 homes within the city limits. She maintained housing is important to state employees. Videos have been produced promoting Preston as a place to work, recreate, and live. At this time 1,100 healthcare workers leave the county for their employment. She added that we will also tackle child care. A video can be accessed on the city’s website: prestonmnchamber.com/livability/.
Herke said he appreciated the support from the city of Preston, including the land that was acquired for the project.