“We’ve got three great veterans’ homes in the state of Alabama,” Riley said. “This is about to be the fourth.”
According to Adm. Clyde Marsh, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, the groundbreaking for the home will likely take place in November or December of this year, with a target completion date of spring 2012.
Marsh also explained the layout of the facility to the audience. The 27-acre home will feature 254 private rooms with 174 skilled-care beds, and 80 domiciliary units, integrated into residential neighborhoods.
Marsh called it “a leading-edge concept.” The governor echoed his sentiments.
“This is going to be one of the leading homes, I think, in the United States,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a prototype of what we can do going forward.
“Someone … once said, ‘You can judge a country, you can judge a people, by the way they take care of their veterans.’ I think that is absolutely true, and I can’t think of a more appropriate day to make this announcement than today.”
Estimated cost for the facility is $50 million, all told. According to numbers from the governor’s office, the federal government will kick in 65 percent, $33 million, through the VA in 2011. The remaining $17 million will come from the state.
Wednesday’s news conference is a crucial step in a process that began as far back as 2006, when Riley’s office first called for a study to determine the long-term needs of the Alabama’s veterans. In 2008, Pell City first received word on the possibility of the home coming to the area.
The new facility will share a site with St. Vincent’s St. Clair, which broke ground in late 2009 and is scheduled for completion in 2011.
“We’re very excited,” St. Vincent’s CEO John O’Neil said. “I think the synergy between the nursing home and the hospital will give us both a great opportunity to provide full content of care.
“We hope to have a close relationship (with the VA home). We won’t be business partners, obviously, but we want to be ministry partners to serve our community. Our staffs will operate closely together, and we’ll both be involved in the nursing program at Jeff State.”
Dr. Judy Merritt, president of Jeff State, called the feeling one of “completion.”
“I think we all believe in the potential of every one of these projects,” Merritt said. “The potential to educate, the potential to heal and the potential to care for people in the later stages of life. We all believe that’s our goal — to make people’s lives better.”
County Commission Chairman Stan Batemon said the home, like the hospital, will help drive other parts of the local economy.
“We’ve looked at this project as an economic-development project,” Batemon said. “It’s also for veterans, but we all knew what this would do for our community, otherwise.”
All gave credit to a number of different entities. Specifically, St. Clair Economic Development Council Executive Director Don Smith said it was a project that belonged to “my predecessor (Ed Gardner Jr.) and my predecessor’s predecessor (Ed Gardner Sr.).”
“We are building a neighborhood here,” Smith said. “We couldn’t ask for better neighbors.”
Pell City Mayor Bill Hereford echoed those sentiments.
“I’m just thrilled to death,” he said. “It does wonders for (Pell City) at a time when we really need it.
“My pledge to the governor, to the admiral and the (VA board of directors): we want to, at every step, justify the confidence that you’ve shown in us, and in our ability to things.”
Contact Will Heath at email@example.com.