LITTLE ROCK — The chairman of the Arkansas Veterans Commission said Monday he hopes the 15-member panel can recommend four potential locations for a new veterans home from the 20 that have submitted proposals.
The commission is to meet at the state Capitol Tuesday to review the 20 proposals with the goal of submitting a pared list to state Veterans Affairs Director by Thursday.
Cissy Rucker, director of the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs, has asked the commission for recommendations this week so a final decision on the location of the new veterans home can be made and paperwork filed by the end of the month
In response to a question from Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, state Department of Veterans Affairs spokeswoman Kelly Ferguson told the Legislative Council’s Arkansas Veterans Home Special Subcommittee on Monday that a location must be known by the end of the year so the state’s application can be submitted in time to qualify for $14.5 million in federal matching funds.
The Legislature this year approved $7.5 million in state funding for the $22 million project to replace the old veterans home in Little Rock that was closed last year after failing building and health inspections.
Bob Schoenborn, chairman of the state Veterans Commission, said after Monday’s meeting that several of the 20 proposals could probably be eliminated quickly during Tuesday’s meeting, but that narrowing the number to four would be difficult.
"It’s not like they’re bad proposals. They are variations on a theme and we’re trying to find the best one," he said. "I’d like to give them four. If I told (the Veterans Affairs Department) we think these four, any one of them, take one, the Veterans Commission would be pleased."
The proposed locations are at Clarksville, Crossett, Fordyce, Fort Chaffee, Monticello, Mountain View, Newport, North Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Russellville, Searcy, Trumann, Vilonia, White Hall, the Bald Knob-Judsonia area, the Benton-Haskell area, and two locations each in Little Rock and Jacksonville.
Schoenborn said the members of the commission have had detailed information on each of the 20 proposals since Dec. 5.
During Monday’s meeting, Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, asked Ferguson about the selection process and what type of grading scale there was to analyze the various proposals.
Ferguson told lawmakers Monday that selection process and the analysis for grading the proposed sites was specific and detailed, patterned after federal guidelines as well as the process used by the state of Nebraska recently when it sought a location for a veterans home.
"What this committee is doing, and the entire process, is very important," Sen. Eddie Cheatham, D-Crossett, said during the meeting. "I think its very important that we pick the best site, not just for my part of the state — I would like to have it down there — but I want the best site for the vets."
Tom Thomas, a member of the Veterans Commission, told the committee he wished the panel had more time to study the 20 potential sites before making recommendations.