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Lawmakers to hear pitch for veterans home in west central Minnesota

WILLMAR — Proposals to fund construction of a veterans nursing home in west central Minnesota will be presented Thursday to members of the House bonding committee, who are touring the state this week.

Representatives from Willmar and Montevideo will make separate pitches for why their community should be selected for the project.

The bonding committee will be in Willmar at 8:45 a.m. and at 11:30 a.m. in Montevideo to hear brief presentations about their veterans home proposals, as well as requests for other capital projects including a recreational trail and a levee.

The two communities have been jostling for years to get the attention — and the funding — for a veterans nursing home to be built in their towns.

Past efforts have fallen short of full legislative approval and it’s been about four years since the topic of building a veterans home in Willmar has been discussed.

The proposal didn’t die, said Steve Renquist, executive director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.

But it’s been “kind of in slumber,” he said.

In the interim, Renquist said the EDC has maintained contact with the state and federal officials and now believes the state Department of Veterans Affairs may be willing to proceed with a new project.

Minnesota currently has five state veterans homes: in Fergus Fall, Hastings, Luverne, Minneapolis and Silver Bay.

Willmar’s past plan to build a veterans nursing home that specialized in traumatic brain injury was a “wonderful proposal” and valid way to meet current needs of veterans, said Renquist. But the message from the state was that officials were more interested in funding a traditional-style nursing home specifically for veterans.

Renquist said he intends to offer three separate options for a veterans nursing home in Willmar when he makes his pitch to the committee Thursday during the hearing at Ridgewater College.

One option is to build a wing onto an existing nursing home that would be jointly administered by Rice Memorial Hospital. The wing would be solely dedicated to veterans.

Another option is to “repurpose” the 16-bed psychiatric hospital in Willmar as a local veterans nursing home.

There are several of these types of facilities in the state and Renquist said turning them into veterans homes would create small regional homes for veterans, rather than one large home, and the “infighting” between communities about where to build a new home could be solved.

The third option is to build a traditional facility that could include “pods” to cater to residents with different needs, including geriatrics or veterans with traumatic brain injury. Renquist said this option may not be the most efficient use of taxpayers’ money, but it is the format the Veterans Affairs has pursued in the past.

The city of Montevideo, which hosts an outpatient clinic that is part of the federal VA health system, is expected to propose construction of a stand-alone veterans nursing home. Montevideo’s past proposal included $2 million in local funds to offset the state’s share of the construction cost.

Renquist said the Bemidji will also be making a pitch.

“We remain confident of giving a strong proposal,” said Renquist. But he acknowledged the other communities also have viable projects.

Officials from Montevideo will also present funding requests for a levee project and while in Willmar, legislators will also hear about a proposal to fund an extension of the Glacial Lakes Recreational Trail from New London to Sibley State Park. Kandiyohi Area Transit officials will request funds to construct an additional bus garage in Willmar.

Legislators will also tour Ridgewater College to see how past bonding money is being used on construction projects currently underway there.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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