Commission recommends NLR for location of new veterans home


LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Veterans Commission voted Tuesday to recommend a golf course in North Little Rock as the location for a proposed new state nursing home.

The 9-3 vote came at the end of an hour-long meeting in which commissioners narrowed the proposed sites to North Little Rock and Searcy, near the airport, and then discussed the merits of each location.

The North Little Rock location, which includes 27 acres, is on federally owned land now used as a city-operated nine-hole golf course, across from Fort Roots.

Commissioners expressed some concern about trying to lease or buy the land from the federal government but liked the location and its proximity not only to Fort Roots but also to the veterans hospital in Little Rock.

Tom Thomas, who lives in Searcy, spoke for the Searcy location, saying it is flat and accessible and that nursing students, as well as students in the physical therapy, physicians assistant program and other medical programs at Harding University, could do internships at the new nursing home rather than have to travel elsewhere.

“Searcy’s VA home would be a prime place to have all of those professionals coming in and out checking on … and helping their career base,” he said. “There is no doubt we’re going to build a nice facility … but once we get the building made and we get the veterans, in there, how are going to take care of them? What’s the best way to take care of them?” Thomas said, noting that the Searcy Regional Economic Development Corp. had also offered to cover the utility costs the first three years the nursing home would be open.

Commissioner Terry Williams Sr. spoke for the North Little Rock site, saying it is in a quiet area and includes a lake stocked with fish.

Nine commissioners voted for the North Little Rock location and three voted for the Searcy site.

Two proposed locations in Jacksonville failed to receive any votes.

Cissy Rucker, director of the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs, said after the meeting that she hoped to make a decision within the next couple weeks.

During the meeting she told the commissioners an architectural firm has been selected to design the new home and that it may be the next federal fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, before the department receives the federal funding to build the home.

Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects was selected last week and the contract is still being negotiated, she said.

Rucker said the state is 19th on the list for federal funding, and as of now the first 18 requests for nursing home repairs or new construction are expected to receive funding this fiscal year.

”We are on the priority list, but supposedly the funding for right now only funds down through 18,” she told reporters after the meeting.

Waiting an extra year for funding might not be so bad, she said, adding “it gives us some time to work on the design … get all the inspections, everything we have to do and then, get a good design based on what we need and that way when somebody says, ‘hey we’ve got money for you,’ we’re ready.”

The Legislature last 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 in 2012 after failing building and health inspections.

The state has applied for about $13.9 million in matching federal funds to built the facility.