Spirit of Hot SpringsREAD ONLINE
Haskell, Saline County vie for veterans homeOriginally Published August 18, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated August 16, 2013 at 11:54 a.m.
HASKELL — Eddie Black of the Saline County Economic Development Corp. said he and others with the SCEDC are ready to make their case this week that the new Arkansas Veterans Home should be in Haskell adjacent to the Arkansas Health Center.
“We have a good story to tell and can make a very strong case,” Black said. “The veterans deserve the best, and we think we have the best setting that they would be proud to have.”
The Saline County site is one of four finalist locations, narrowed down from 40 original proposals by the Veterans Home Task Force. All four are possible locations for a new state veterans home. Black said members of the task force will visit the Haskell site this week. The Saline County location is in competition with sites in Fort Smith, Jacksonville and Russellville.
“They have said they will be here either Aug. 19 or Aug. 21,” Black said. “The task force is a large committee, and I don’t know how many members are coming.”
The selection committee will be met by a delegation that includes Black and Paul Doramus from the SCEDC; Haskell Mayor Jeff Arey; Shane Broadway, director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education and
a member of the SCEDC;
and others. Locating the new veterans home in Saline county would bring in 250 jobs for the long-term care facility.
Arey said the city of Haskell supports the plan and would welcome the veterans home to the community. Black said Haskell city officials have offered to waive water and sewer improvement fees and would locate a new fire station near the facility.
“There would be synergies with the Arkansas Health Center, which already has 650 employees involved in long-term and acute care,” Black said. “Jay Hill, the director of the health center, is on board and will be taking part in our presentation.”
Last year, the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs ordered the last remaining patients in the old Arkansas Veterans Home in Little Rock to be moved out and the facility closed, declaring it uninhabitable. The state estimated that the cost of just renovating the basic infrastructure of the home to minimum standards would be $10 million.
Black said the Saline County site has everything the members of the task force have said would be required for the veterans home.
“The land is already owned by the state and the Department of Human Services,” he said. “DHS officials are willing to agree to a long-term agreement about the property.”
Another requirement is easy access to health care.
“The site is only five minutes from Saline Memorial Hospital, which has their own ambulance service,” Black said. “One of the Saline Memorial ambulances could be stationed at the home with an EMT. There is also fast access to the VA Hospital in Little Rock.”
In addition, the selection group wants shopping and hotels nearby for families who would visit the veterans at the home. Black said there are between 700 and 1,000 hotel rooms in the Benton-Bryant area. Meanwhile, a major shopping complex is being planned at the Haskell exit on Interstate 30, not far from the proposed Saline County site for the veterans home.
The Saline County group hopes the Haskell site will have an advantage because of its appearance.
“It is a beautiful sight we are selling,” Black said. “It has a park, a pond and a picnic pavilion with plenty of green space.”
Some members of the location selection committee have already said they like the Saline County site.
Mary Erdman, former commander of the American Legion in Arkansas, said the site was her top choice because of the location’s “country feel.”
Arkansas Veterans of Foreign Wars Cmdr. Terry Callahan, another member of the selection group, said the Haskell selection was also his favorite, calling it “a heck of a proposal.”
However, State Veterans Affairs Director Cissy Rucker has the final say and has said the final selection may not be any of the finalists.
“We’ll just see,” Black said.
Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be contacted at (501) 244-4460 or email@example.com.
Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.