- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 25, 2014

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) - Grand Island leaders haven’t given up on retaining the state veterans home instead of seeing the state build a replacement in Kearney.

Grand Island Mayor Jay Vavricek told the Kearney Hub (http://bit.ly/NOlzkK ) that Grand Island leaders are fleshing out their counterproposal to the plan approved by Gov. Dave Heineman, anticipating legislative debate on the site selection question.

“Why wouldn’t you consider these options rather than summarily dismiss them?” Vavricek said.

A bill advanced out of a legislative committee would require a legislative review of any proposal to move a state service or agency from one community to another, if the cost was $15 million or more. The original measure by Sen. Mike Gloor, of Grand Island, could have been applied to the decision to move the home, but that language has been removed.

Vavricek said Grand Island leaders are looking at future uses of the facility’s 640 acres in Grand Island, as well as adding more details to the counterproposal as a strategy to retain the home and address transitional issues.

Under a master plan Grand Island is drafting, he said, some new construction would occur, but some buildings at the Grand Island home would be retained and remodeled to make them functional. Buildings that couldn’t be refurbished could be sold to private investors for repurposing for such things as housing for low-income seniors or homeless veterans.

“It’s revitalization of the area,” the mayor said.

Grand Island, Kearney, Hastings and North Platte all competed for the project to replace the outdated, 225-bed Grand Island facility. The current home has about 375 employees, and a new facility is expected to generate millions in fresh economic activity.

The state plan featuring the Kearney location already has been sent to Department of Veterans Affairs officials in Washington, where it awaits funding.

Grand Island officials say the counterproposal would cost an estimated $80 million, compared with the $121 million needed to build new in Kearney. An early version of the counterproposal was sent to the VA in Washington, too.

Heineman has criticized Grand Island’s actions, saying the alternative proposal could create confusion at the federal level, which might jeopardize the project’s funding.

VA officials have since said the decision on where to build rests with state officials.

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Information from: Kearney Hub, http://www.kearneyhub.com/

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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