PB sites not among finalists for veterans home

The Arkansas Veterans Home Commission on Tuesday reduced to four the number of potential sites recommended for a planned new $22-million veterans home.

Neither of two proposed Pine Bluff locales survived the cut.

In a non-binding decision, two Jacksonville and single North Little Rock and Searcy sites were selected from 20 potential locations.

The City of Pine Bluff had proposed a site in an effort championed by Mayor Debe Hollingsworth and supported by the city council. Also, Mary Lou Mauldin of White Hall had asked for consideration on a Sulphur Springs-area site near Pine Bluff that she owns.

Both were disappointed with the outcome of the panel’s decision.

“I think the proposal we submitted fit the site criteria to a ‘T’ on all points,” Hollingsworth said after the meeting. “We hit it on all facets. I can’t hang my hat on why we weren’t selected as one of the finalists today.”

The mayor said she’s pleased that a final say by state Department of Veterans Affairs Director Cissy Rucker awaits.

“I’m glad the matter isn’t over yet,” Hollingsworth said. “There’s a lot of components to work through, and I still believe the city-proposed site would be the best choice.”

Mauldin, meanwhile, expressed regrets that her property was rejected.

“I’m slightly disappointed, I guess you could say,” she said. “My site is an old farm and it was out from the hustle and bustle of city life and there were lots of areas for walking trails or what have you.

“But I’m pleased that the final selections have been made,” she continued. “Our veterans need a nice, new home.”

Site proposal criteria included a size requirement of least 20 acres.

Rucker said last week that she plans to inform Gov. Mike Beebe of her pick by the end of the year.

The former veterans home in Little Rock was boarded up 18 months ago. It had been estimated that repair costs on the aging and decaying facility would have been $10 million.

The Legislature this year approved $7.5 million to build a new facility and the state has obtained $14.5 million in federal matching funds.

Hollingsworth said previously that the facility would result in a minimum of 100 to 125 “good-paying” jobs, not including contracted services. The ADVA said the home wILL have a $4 million annual operating budget beyond an estimated yearly payroll of $3 million.

“Should Pine Bluff be selected for the home, we’re obviously looking at a major, major economic impact,” the mayor said earlier. “Staffing requirements range from physician, physician’s assistant, certified nurse assistant, licensed practical nurse and registered nurse to psychologist, psychiatrist, physical therapist and a number of other health professions.”