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State and local officials visit future site of Bemidji veterans home

BEMIDJI—State officials visited Bemidji on Friday, June 29, to get a first-hand look at the site of a future veterans home intended to serve northwest Minnesota.

The tour of the site, located directly east of the Sanford Health Neilson Place nursing home, included Beltrami County leaders and individuals from various state agencies. The visit comes after the Legislature passed a bonding bill that included $32 million for three new veteran homes in the state.

As a result, a process was set in motion where local officials and state departments have to work together on applications that will be sent to the federal government. With any veterans home project, state and local government units are responsible for 35 percent of the cost, while the federal government covers the remaining 65 percent.

Of the $32 million, $12.4 million was set aside for the Bemidji home while the rest was split for projects in Montevideo and Preston. According to county officials, the total cost of a 72-unit veterans home in Bemidji will be around $45 million.

To ensure there isn't a gap in funding, Veterans Home Task Force Chair and Beltrami County District 5 Commissioner Jim Lucachick said the county has and will continue to raise local dollars to contribute to the effort.

"We're now going to be contacting our partnering counties and ramp that up quite a bit," Lucachick said. "We're also going to approach the local veteran organizations more. It's because now we have something so much more concrete to talk with them about."

Beltrami County has already pledged $1 million toward the project and Lucachick informed the group Friday that $68,000 has been raised for the effort. Those donations include money from surrounding townships as well as regional veteran groups, such as the American Legion, the Kelliher VFW Auxiliary and the Ride for the Troops program.

"We need to get out to those surrounding counties and let them know it's not just Beltrami that will benefit from this, it will be the whole area," said Richard Anderson, Beltrami County District 3 Commissioner. "The veterans will also be critical in this effort, as we go to the other counties. If they're at those meetings, we can help convince the other county commissioners that this is a worthwhile venture."

According to state officials at Friday's meeting, county leaders are expected to submit a report on the local funds at the end of this summer and send in the final number of donations to St. Paul by April 1, 2019. The state will then include that number as part of the application to the federal government to receive the match.

It was also noted that the donations must be all fully collected and ready for use by Aug. 1, 2019.

The state, meanwhile, is expected to hire a construction manager in summer 2019 and break ground on the project in October 2019. Following a construction period of about a year, a process of staff hiring and furnishing will take place for several months, with an opening in May 2021 to follow.

Once opened, the facility will operate on first come, first serve basis. Because of this process, the home will likely set up a waiting list. Data from the state at Friday's meeting showed rural homes often have a wait of six-to-eight months.

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