Three communities recommended for new veterans home

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Cissy Rucker, director of the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs, discusses the planned state veterans home during a meeting of the Arkansas Veterans’ Commission Tuesday at the state Capitol. (Rob Moritz photo)

LITTLE ROCK — A state panel Tuesday recommended three communities in Central Arkansas — North Little Rock, Jacksonville and Searcy — as potential sites for a planned new $22 million veterans home.

Bob Schoenborn, chairman of the 15-member Arkansas Veterans’ Home Commission, said the recommendations were not binding and that state Department of Veterans Affairs Director Cissy Rucker would still have the final say on where the facility is located.

Rucker said after the meeting she hoped to make a decision soon.

“I’ve seen the sites … I know what they are, I know where they are and I know the people we’ve worked with,” she said. “I want to get this moving. I feel very good that we’ve got this moving and the commission going.”

The North Little Rock location is located near Fort Roots Veterans Administration Medical Center on what is now the nine-hole Emerald Park Golf Course.

The Searcy location is 20-acres of privately owned land near Booth and Pioneer roads.

Two proposed sites in Jacksonville were recommended. One is 30 acres of privately owned farmland on Military Road and the other is a 20-acre site near Little Rock Air Force Base. Commissioners expressed some reservations about the site near the base when informed it was in the flight path of C-130 aircraft.

The three communities were selected from 20 that submitted proposed sites.

During Tuesday’s commission meeting, each member discussed desires for the future location of the veterans home, and each of the three cities were at or near the top of each commissioner’s list of recommendations.

“The biggest need is in the central part of the state,” said Commissioner Harlie Treat, adding that the “vast majority of veterans we intended to serve are in the central part of the state.”

Commissioner Tom Thomas said he was impressed with many of the 20 proposals and said a new veterans home would be a “tremendous economic benefit” to whichever community is selected.

Schoenborn noted that the proposed veterans home was the first that the state would build from scratch, adding that the current home in Fayetteville and the one that closed last year in Little Rock were both placed in existing buildings.

He said the commission could someday be locating another veterans home in the state because federal Veterans Administration guidelines call for up 650 to 800 beds in the state. The Fayetteville facility currently has 60 beds and the one being considered will house about 100.

“This, in my view, is our first home, not our last home,” Schoenborn said.

Rucker said five design firms have been selected as finalists to design the new veterans home. The five will be interviewed by Rucker and three others on a selection panel Jan. 15-17.

The Legislature this year approved $7.5 million in state funding for the $22 million project to replace the old veterans home in Little Rock that was closed last year after failing building and health inspections. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has approved $14.5 million for the project.

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