BEMIDJI -- The design for the proposed Bemidji veterans home has been slightly scaled back, but state and county officials said the crucial care needs will still be met.
Larry Herke, Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs commissioner, met Thursday with the local Veterans Home Task Force to give an update on the project. As part of his message to local officials, Herke shared details on the project's timeline and what's been removed from the design.
"We did get to a point where the project was over budget," Herke said. "So there was a requirement to make some hard decisions. We were about $2.2 million over budget. That's actually not bad, it was actually the best of the three proposed in Minnesota."
Dubbed the "House in the Woods," the Bemidji veterans home is a proposed 72-bed facility at a cost of $42 million. Nationwide, veteran homes are constructed with the federal government covering 65 percent of the cost, while state and local units cover the remaining 35 percent.
In 2018, the state Legislature approved $32 million for the construction of three homes, with $12.4 million toward the Bemidji project and the remainder toward projects in Preston and Montevideo. To compliment the state contribution, county officials raised $2.3 million from regional counties, cities and organizations.
Herke said Thursday while changes were made to the Bemidji home's layout to meet cost estimates, though, the essentials remain the same.
"We're still at 72 beds and the size of the rooms haven't changed," Herke said. "Each of the patio areas are also being kept intact."
To stay within the project's budget, though, Herke said much of the basement originally included had to be eliminated.
"The only part of the basement remaining is the kitchen and some storage," Herke said. "It's much more simplified than it was before, when it would have gone across the building."
Other changes to the design include an overhang canopy stopping at the curb rather than over the driveway, the rear facade being simplified, smaller sun rooms and combining offices in the administrative area. Herke added the changes will result in lower mechanical costs.
"Our task force all along tried to let the design team know we're OK keeping it a little more conservative," said Jim Lucachick, project task force chair and county commissioner. "We want to make sure we have those core services. I like the position we're in."
If costs do come in lower and dollars are made available, Herke said alternatives to add to the project would include extending the canopy over the driveway, enhancing the interior's durability and installing a stainless steel roof.
When open, the home will provide long and short term care for residents, along with physical occupation, speech therapy, a laboratory, an X-ray room, respiratory therapy, a dental room and optometry services.
Proponents of the project have been pushing for the home for more than a decade, often citing the under served veteran population of nearly 27,000 in northwest Minnesota. The home will be built on the north side of Bemidji on land donated by Sanford Health, located directly east of the provider's Neilson Place nursing home.
Herke said official notification on federal funding should be received in January. Groundbreaking is expected to follow in summer or early fall 2020 and construction will continue through 2021 with an opening in early 2022.