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We are privileged to be a part of the design team to provide our veterans with a new home.


By ASHLEY WHITE Hub Staff Writer

LINCOLN — It’s finally official: The new Central Nebraska Veterans’ Home will be built in Kearney.

John Hilgert, director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Veterans’ Homes, announced Tuesday that Nebraska has been notified it will receive federal funding for the new veterans home in Kearney.

“This is wonderful news,” Hilgert said in a news release. “We expected to receive funding in this round and appreciate the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ recognition that our veterans deserve a new home.”

The state will receive an estimated $63,689,614 in overall federal funds, according to the VA’s construction grants priority list. Nebraska will receive partial funding this fiscal year with additional funds allotted in future years, Hilgert said.

The state also will contribute $47 million to the project, and the city, Buffalo County and the Economic Development Council of Buffalo County have pledged $10.1 million for the home.

The notification of federal funding comes after months of waiting for the decision. City Manager Mike Morgan said that many people and groups in Kearney have been working to make sure the project proceeded during the wait for the federal funding.

“There are so many people who have worked so hard,” Morgan said. “It didn’t matter who we asked for help along the way. If you just go down the list, it was always, ‘How can we help? How can we work together?’ It’s been a huge effort.”

The new veterans home, which should bring around 400 jobs to Kearney, will be built on nearly 68 acres at 56th Street and Cherry Avenue. At the Kearney City Council meeting Tuesday, Mayor Stan Clouse said the new home could be open by 2017.

The next step for the new Central Nebraska Veterans’ Home will be to formalize a funding agreement with the state of Nebraska, Morgan said. The federal government will bid the project for construction after the design phase is complete.

Design work has already started on the project. Wilkins Hinrichs Stober Architects of Kearney has completed about 35 percent of the design, Morgan said.

The new veterans home will have 225 private beds and bathrooms in “homestyle” units, in which 12 to 15 members share a living space.

In Kearney’s bid for the veterans home, the city also included $2 million for a chapel, library, woodshop, ceramic shop, paved trails and fishing ponds.

A private group has also been fundraising to build a veterans memorial at the new home. Bob Harpst, a retired master sergeant in the Army National Guard who lives in Kearney, is the chairman of the committee to raise funds for the memorial.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Harpst said of the funding announcement. “I think it’s going to allow us to break ground on the vets home and finish the plans for the memorial.”

The privately funded memorial will be on the southeast portion of the veterans home property.

“It was always my feeling ... it was going to be in Kearney. It was just a matter of time,” Harpst said. “In this case, patience is a virtue.”

Kearney was announced as the location of the new Central Nebraska Veterans’ Home in July 2013, following a competitive process. The decision to move the veterans home from Grand Island, where it has been for 127 years, to Kearney has caused conflict between the two communities.

“We understand the frustration that Grand Island has,” Morgan said. “There’s no question it’s important to their community, and we understand their loss. But this was a process that we participated in, and from our community’s standpoint, we need to move forward and accomplish what we’ve promised to do, which is build a new veterans home.”

At the City Council meeting, Council Vice-President Randy Buschkoetter said that he appreciated Gov. Dave Heineman’s decision to have a competitive bidding process for the veterans home.

“It took courage for the governor to put this out for bid and get the best deal for the veterans,” Buschkoetter said. “It takes some guts to make the decision he did.”

State Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney, who blocked a Grand Island attempt to prevent the veterans home from moving to Kearney in the last legislative session, said he feels a sense of relief after Tuesday’s funding announcement.

“I’m very happy. It’s time to get moving forward with it and get it built,” Hadley said. “It’s a sense of relief that it’s finally over.”

That’s a sentiment many in Kearney are echoing this week — along with excitement to begin the project.

“We were always hopeful, but this is a culmination of that,” Morgan said. “This is going to be an exciting time. You don’t build a veterans home every day. It’s a big deal.”

Hub Managing Editor Mike Konz and staff writer Amanda Brandt contributed to this report.