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State accepts Willmar veterans' home pre-design

WILLMAR -- The Minnesota Department of Administration has accepted the preliminary design for a veterans' nursing home in Willmar, says Stephen Musser, executive director of the Minnesota Veterans Homes Board.

WILLMAR -- The Minnesota Department of Administration has accepted the preliminary design for a veterans' nursing home in Willmar, says Stephen Musser, executive director of the Minnesota Veterans Homes Board.

Last January, Musser told a Willmar group that the preliminary design would be presented to the state Veterans Homes Board in February. At the April meeting, the board voted to place the project at a low level on the priority list.

In May, the board was told the pre-design was accepted by the Department of Administration. The pre-design provides concept drawings for a nursing home with up to 90 beds. Estimated construction cost is $12.9 million.

"The Department of Administration reviews all of the pre-designs and says if they meet state standards or not, and in this case it did,'' said Musser.

However, the pre-design was not completed in time to be considered for the 2006 Legislature's bonding bill, said Musser.

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"We may have to wait until the next bonding session, which is in two years for the state, or if something happens sooner at a local level. Then it pushes the timeline ahead a little bit faster,'' he said.

Meanwhile, Musser said the Veterans Homes Board submitted an application to the federal Veterans Administration for potential grant funding of 65 percent of the cost. The state or local governments would pay the remaining 35 percent.

Musser said the Veterans Administration has approved the application, but not the funding. The federal share won't be approved until the local or state share is committed, he said.

"Now we're in line to compete, once the state or local community comes up with the 35 percent,'' he said.

"We've sort of done everything we can do at this point in time to position ourselves for the federal grant money. It's really either up to the local community or to the state to come up with the 35 percent, and that's what we're waiting for.''

The board has been working with State Sen. Dean Johnson and Rep. Al Juhnke, both of Willmar, to develop a veterans' home in Willmar.

Johnson said VA approval of the design is one of the major challenges, but he said Willmar's proposal is "parked'' at the federal level until a decision is made on the 35 percent share.

"Once that is established, then it will trigger the VA funding at the federal level for 65 percent,'' Johnson said. "There's some staging to be done, but it puts us certainly in the ballpark for both federal and state funds.''

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At the local level, the contribution could be land or infrastructure, "just as long as the total costs aggregate up to 35 percent,'' said Johnson. "Many positive signs to move us forward, but work to be done yet.''

Musser said the board looked at nine or 10 sites in Willmar, narrowed the number to three and "probably favors'' a site near Rice Care Center, a nursing home owned and operated by Rice Memorial Hospital on West Willmar Avenue.

The proposed nursing home would offer special care to veterans in a 10-county area who have Alzheimer's disease, dementia and mental health issues that are often difficult to control, said Musser.

"Demographically, we've reviewed the numbers of veterans in the immediate area, and based on what our experience is it certainly would support additional beds in the state,'' said Musser.

The Veterans Homes Board operates five long-term care facilities with 900 beds in the state.

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