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A $6 million appropriation by the Alabama Legislature passed before the end of the regular Legislative session will help offset increased construction costs for a new Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs long-term care facility in Enterprise.
Groundbreaking at the 108-acre site of the state’s fifth VA home, between Highway 51 and Highway 167 North adjacent to Yancey Parker Industrial Park, is expected to take place in June.
The original estimate for construction of the facility was $60 million, but ADVA officials have said the dramatic rise in materials such as lumber, supply chain issues and other factors that have come into play in the past couple of years have affected expense numbers.
The 182,000 square-foot facility is slated to house 174 beds and employ about 225 medical and support personnel from throughout the Wiregrass.
At the press conference today, State Rep. Mike Jones will also be speaking.
The following are comments from Enterprise Mayor William E. Cooper:
I want to express my deepest gratitude to Gov. Ivey, Rep. Marques, Sen. Holley, Rep. Jones and all the state officials who helped get the appropriation before the Legislature and worked to get it approved.
This VA Home is extremely important to me, as the leader of this community. It is extremely important to our city and the future economy of our city and the surrounding communities.
But it means so much more to those veterans who are in need of the long-term care it can provide. We can’t stress that enough.
Serving veterans is the goal of the Veterans Administration. It’s the single-most important factor in this entire project, even though we know this project will have a positive ripple effect throughout our community.
It is our ultimate goal as well, so we can’t thank you all enough for helping to see that we don’t have to compromise on the size and capabilities of this new VA home.
Comments from Enterprise City Administrator Jonathan Tullos:
We wanted to call this press conference today to call attention to a vital development concerning the 60-plus million state Veterans Administration that should open here in Enterprise in late 2024.
On an initiative led by District 91 State Representative Rhett Marques and District 31 State Sen. Jimmy Holley, the Alabama Legislature approved a supplemental bill that included $6 million to help the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs with construction costs.
Mayor Cooper and I want to take the opportunity on behalf of our city to strongly emphasize our gratitude for the action that was taken after we expressed our concern to the area delegation about the significant cost hike as a result of the country’s current economic state.
We appreciate everyone involved in securing the additional funds that could very likely save the project from cost-cutting measures.
Most of you understand what a great effort was required on the part of many people for Enterprise to compete successfully and be selected as the site for the next Veterans Administration long-term care facility. It was a long and formidable process – but don’t get me wrong. It was WORTH each and every minute of work that was poured into it.
We will see the rewarding result of that work very soon as the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs breaks ground on the site between Highway 51 and Highway 167 where the home will be constructed.
It was worth every effort because we knew what was at stake. We knew that we had the opportunity to help veterans who badly needed long-term, high-quality care in a community that will embrace them. We knew that 174 beds would be opened to veterans who had waited for month or even years to be admitted to a VA facility. We knew that hundreds of jobs would be created during the construction of the facility. Once the facility opens, we knew that at least 225 permanent jobs would be filled by people from Enterprise and the surrounding area.
We were more than pleased about the potential economic consequences that would help families and communities here and throughout the region.
Then the repercussions of the Covid Pandemic brought negative economic repercussions that have snowballed with controversial political developments.
While the VA home construction project was never really threatened because the original funding had been set aside, the scope of the project could have been downsized from the originally-designed 183,000 square feet because of the soaring prices of materials, supplies and even labor.
Admiral Kent Davis, commissioner of the state Veterans Administration, and his staff have worked diligently to see that the Command Sergeant Major Bennie G. Adkins VA Home is built to its original specifications, and to ensure that veterans receive the full benefit of this project.
Of course, they have had our unwavering support in all their efforts and we are honored to be able to work with the ADVA to make this VA Home a reality for the deserving veterans in need of long-term care.
When this project was originally announced, it looked like the cost would be about $60 million project, 174 beds and over 225 jobs. In this inflationary environment, that cost has been bumped up to potentially in excess of $80 million.
With that, Mayor Cooper and I talked about what could be done, where can we get other sources of funding to help this project so we don’t lose the scope of the project. Right now, Alabama is in a critical state. We have over 1,400 veterans on a waiting list right now, to get into the home. This project only has 174 beds to help meet this critical need. We reached out to Rep. Marques.
To make sure there were no degradations in the VA home project, Rep. Marques worked with the Wiregrass coalition in the House and Senate, including the Chairman of the General Fund Committee Rep. Steve Clouse, who serves our District 93 neighbors to the east in Dale and parts of Houston County; State Rep. Mike Jones, who serves our neighbors to the west in Covington County. They worked closely with State Finance Director Bill Poole to develop the bill, which was ultimately passed and signed by Gov. Kay Ivey.
Of course, the Governor is a strong supporter of veterans and our military and she has great concern for the more than 7,000 veterans here in Coffee County and the approximately 377,000 veterans across Alabama. Like the ADVA, our local leaders and the Legislative delegation who worked on this, Gov. Ivey recognizes that the loss of even one bed in that facility would be detrimental for the hundreds of veterans waiting to be admitted.
We agree. Our veterans deserve the very best of what is within our means to give them.
So we greatly appreciate Gov. Ivey for signing the bill. Without her, this certainly wouldn’t have happened. And we are grateful for the successful effort by Reps. Marques and Jones and all of the others to keep this project on track to break ground in June.
I’d like to mention that Mayor Cooper and our City Council have been instrumental in driving this project forward. We’ve got a great partnership with the Coffee County Commission and our state representatives.
Through this, we have developed a great partnership with the ADVA and we are glad to be able to assist in any way possible with this great project for our veterans and our community.
Comments from State Rep. Rhett Marques (District 91, covers central, south and northeast Coffee County)
This is the way things should happen, a coalition of people coming together from the city, the county, the state, to accomplish a goal or meet a need. The Veterans Home here is going to be one of the things that lasts long after we are gone. In this area, with Fort Rucker and all the veterans we have, it was essential to get this done. (Note: More than 7,000 veterans in Coffee County alone. The VA home will serve veterans from all over the state)
With the environment that we have right now with building costs going up and the inflation rate rising – it’s a national issue, but we knew that the costs were going to exceed what the budget was (for this project).
When Mayor Cooper, City Administrator Jonathan Tullos and Admiral Kent Davis, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, came to Sen. Holley and I, we were more than glad to start that process of trying to find additional funds.
Chairman Steve Clouse (House General Fund Committee) was instrumental in working with us along with Bill Poole (state Finance Officer) and Sen. Greg Albritton, chairman of the Senate General Fund Committee.
This doesn’t happen just by one person or another. This was everybody working together at the state level with the city. We were fortunate we were able to get the $6 million that was supplemental funding, and when the Governor signed the bill, that money was given to the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs and in place now to start.
This was an effort that took everybody and I appreciate the help with Rep. Jones and Clouse, and I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you how much Sen. Holley meant to this project and how much he cared for it, so that we were able to get those funds.
Comments from State Rep. Mike Jones (District 92, covers Covington County and southwest Coffee County)
I’m smiling as he (Marques) was talking about team.
Most of the House members are frankly north of Birmingham, so for us to have power to get things accomplished and to fight for what we need in rural South Alabama, we have to work together. We have to be a team. With each of us bringing our skills to the table, we can get things done. And that’s what happened here.
The concern wasn’t that the project would be lost, but it was a matter of that the scope might be lost and the services might be reduced. Everybody agreed, that could not happen. There was too big of a need, especially in South Alabama.
My part in this team, when you are in office for 12 years, you have relationships, and one of the relationships I’ve made is with our Finance Director Bill Poole … I called and talked to him about the situation … it was not long after that I was able to make a call back to Rep. Marques and Jonathan Tullos that we have a commitment, that the money would be there.
We are not going to be reducing the size, the scope or the services, and that’s the main priority here. This is going to be fully built, fully constructed and all the services will be available.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 9, 2022
Special Projects Coordinator
City of Enterprise
(334) 348-2310, (334) 406-1394