Federal funding secured for Bemidji veterans home

“That’s really, really exciting because when you think about the residents of Hubbard County – many of them having to travel no more than 10 miles, some of them having to travel maybe an hour, hour and a half to get a veterans home – should they find the opportunity of a bed in that veterans home, that’s really, really good news for the people in your county,” said Interim Hubbard County Administrator Kay Mack at Tuesday’s county board meeting.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) recently announced conditional approval for construction grants toward veterans homes in Bemidji, Montevideo and Preston, totaling more than $80 million. By June 30, the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs will complete the federal VA grant application process to obtain the funds.

For more than a decade, Bemidji area officials and advocates have been fighting for a new veterans home to fill a major need in the region. There are an estimated 27,000 veterans living in northwest Minnesota, and nearly 75 percent of them are older than 55.

The effort to create a vets home in Bemidji began in 2006.

In 2018, a bonding bill was passed by the Minnesota Legislature, which included $32 million for the construction of three veterans homes. Of that appropriation, $12.4 million was set aside for Bemidji, $9.4 million for Montevideo and $10.2 million for Preston.

When the state funding was approved in 2018, it launched a local fundraising effort to ensure costs for the Bemidji home were covered. This was based on the funding formula, where the federal government covers 65 percent of costs, while state and local governments provide 30 percent.

While working for Beltrami County, Mack said, “I’m proud to say I was very intimately involved in the project, including the local fundraising.”

More than $2 million was raised from government units, veterans service organizations and private donors, “which then leveraged, became $6 million on that project,” Mack said. For example, Beltrami County provided $1 million to the project and the city of Bemidji gave $250,000.

Mack applauded the Hubbard County Board for contributing $50,000 toward the project.

The new vets home will be built on a 15-acre, wooded area on the north side of Bemidji, on land donated by Sanford Health. The 72-bed facility will offer skilled nursing care, hospice and long-term rehabilitation. It is anticipated to cost about $41.5 million to construct, Mack said.

“I also had the opportunity to be involved in the design stage of it. It’s going to be an absolutely beautiful facility for the north woods, with lots of big beam construction – the kinds of things we build into cabins and lodges when we build them up here. A lot of windows, courtyards and walking paths because of the beautiful piece of property that Sanford donated to the project,” she continued.

Construction could begin as early as early as fall 2021 with an anticipated 18-month construction schedule.

“It is satisfying to move ever-closer to seeing shovels in the ground,” District 5A Rep. Matt Bliss, R-Pennington said in a release. “I can’t tell you how happy I am for veterans in our area who will be able to do their final tour of duty near their families. They have sacrificed so much for us and we owe it to them to provide the services they need. This has been a major community effort and I can’t thank people enough who have worked so hard to make this happen.”

“This is a great day for the men and women who have served our country in the armed forces,” District 2A Rep. Matt Grossell, R-Clearbrook said in a release. “Our area of the state has a desert for this type of facility and now our heroes, who were sent around the world to serve our country, can get the care and treatment they need closer to home.”

Additional reporting by Matthew Liedke of the Bemidji Pioneer.