FUNDS STILL AVAILABLE, BUT APPLICATION PERIOD MAY BE BUMPED
By BRIAN WALKER/Staff writer
Local officials are continuing their quest to have an 88-bed state veterans home built to serve the Panhandle.
Post Falls Mayor Clay Larkin is sending nearly 3,000 signatures on a petition to the Idaho American Legion in support of a facility in Post Falls.
“(The state Veterans Affairs office) indicates we already meet a lot of the preliminary requirements and should be in good shape when the application dates open,” Larkin said. “There’s a huge need for it.”
There are an estimated 18,000 veterans just in Kootenai County, and the facility would serve all of North Idaho.
“It’s time for us to have our own veterans home,” Larkin said.
Larkin said it was hoped that the application for the project would be sent this spring, but he learned this week that the application process won’t likely happen until next year.
“Quite frankly I am disappointed (about the possible delay) as (the state) has had a year to get the particulars done,” Larkin said. “But the good news is the funds (from the VA) are still intact.”
Larkin said a site in the Tullamore area off Highway 41 near Prairie Avenue is among the locations being explored. A site donation – or one at a reduced cost – is also being looked into.
“There is much hope that is where it will be located,” said Larkin, a Vietnam and Korean War veteran.
Kerri Thoreson, a Post Falls City Council member and curator of the R.D. Rankin Veterans Memorial Plaza in Kootenai County, said local officials are in it for the long haul to see the project happen.
“We’re determined to take the steps necessary to see it become a reality,” she said.
The proposal, which has been discussed for about a year, is on the radar of multiple state legislators and was discussed at last week’s legislative town hall meeting in Post Falls.
Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, said he’ll be working with other legislators to get an appropriation for the state’s veterans budget to have a marketing analysis completed.
“This will take time and funding before a decision is made on authorizing a vets home in the Post Falls area,” Eskridge said.
The VA can only help with 65 percent of the funding for the facility and the rest needs to be raised.
The total cost for similar facilities, including the building and land, is in the $20 million range.
Larkin said he recognizes raising 35 percent of the cost will be a challenge, but he remains optimistic that the facility will come to life.
Last year the state VA office had about $30 million in uncommitted funding at one point, Larkin said.
He said there’s a lot of interest in making the facility happen.
“A lot of people are ready to step up and help, and we’re asking them to be patient for the time being,” Larkin said. “I’m sure there will be a lot of help with labor and materials.”
Larkin said he’s pleased to hear funding is being pursued for the project by some legislators.
“One of our fears is that the legislators will go after the VA money to fill other gaps,” he said. “It is our feeling that every nickel of that money belongs to the vets, not the General Fund.”
Multiple veterans organizations have supported the project, including passing resolutions and gathering signatures. State veterans officials have said such support helps when the project is considered at the state and federal levels.
The closest state vets home, which serves all of North Idaho, is in Lewiston. Other homes are in Boise and Pocatello. Most homes of this type in the region are at capacity.
Larkin said he has been collaborating with several officials, including those at other veterans facilities in the West, in how to best make the facility a reality.
An 88-bed vets home was recently contracted in Walla Walla and Larkin wonders if the North Idaho proposal can piggyback off that.
“We are thinking we should be able to borrow the plans, materials list and construction bid documents from them and that alone could help on the cost,” he said.
Larkin said some people believe a veterans hospital is being proposed, but that’s not the case.
“There will be limited medical help (at the home),” he said.