Hauling away trash and shoveling snow.
These two chores were a few of the promises Kearney made to help tip a heated bidding war over a new Nebraska veterans home in its favor Friday.
After 126 years in Grand Island, the state's first veterans home is moving west to Kearney.
Gov. Dave Heineman's announcement of a new home for a $121 million, 225-bed Central Nebraska Veterans Home was greeted with jubilation in Kearney and disappointment in runners-up Hastings, Grand Island and North Platte.
“All we wanted was a fair process,'' said Kearney Mayor Stan Clouse. “Everyone put their best foot forward and Kearney came out on top.''
Kearney City Manager Mike Morgan estimated the facility would have an annual economic impact of $30 million.
Grand Island Mayor Jay Vavricek was crushed. The city campaigned hard to keep the long-term care facility and its 350 full-time jobs, but finished third in the final ranking. “I'm shocked and deeply disappointed,'' Vavricek said. “It's unbelievable.'' After the announcement Friday, the Grand Island leaders who put together the city's bid vowed to fight the decision. The Home For Our Heroes committee, which included Vavricek and other state and city leaders, issued a statement Friday night calling the move an “affront” and an “insult.” “Ordinarily, a community would be expected to respond graciously if it lost out in a competitive site selection process,” the committee's statement said. “That would be appropriate only if the process was fair and open. The state's selection process for the veterans home was not. The decision to move the facility was effectively made a year ago when conversations occurred between Kearney and state officials about relocating the veterans home. Kearney officials have acknowledged, publicly, that they submitted preliminary proposals to the state for feedback. … Grand Island will fight this decision.” The selection isn't the final decision, and the state's recommendation must be approved by the federal government. The Home For Our Heroes committee members believe there is sufficient cause for federal officials to question the selection process and the “unnecessary disruption of the lives of veterans.” Heineman said each of the four communities submitted outstanding proposals. “This was not an easy decision,” Heineman said.
The 50-mile move up Interstate 80 to Kearney from Grand Island won't happen soon.
Timing will depend on the federal government's funding of the project, said John Hilgert, director of the Division of Veterans Homes and Veterans Affairs, a branch of the State Department of Health and Human Services.
Under the best-case scenario, groundbreaking could take place in early summer 2015 with a ribbon-cutting in early 2018.
“When that day comes, years from now, we hope … that the excellent staff and leadership of the Grand Island Veterans Home will continue to be part of the Central Nebraska Veterans Home,'' Hilgert said.
Heineman said the proposals were financially stronger and better than state officials anticipated. He said he appreciated that each community focused on its strengths and what was best for veterans.
Hilgert said Kearney's comprehensive proposal stood out. City leaders were optimistic about their chances because of the experience they gained in finishing as runner-up to Altoona, Iowa, in luring a Facebook data center to Kearney in April.
Kearney offered not only a buildable site but resources to develop and operate the facility. The city offered financial incentives, workforce development plans, subsidized electrical, water and sewer rates, and trash discounts. Hilgert noted Kearney's commitment to reducing the cost of utilities, including addressing trash pickup and snow removal.
Other factors included no-cost equipment, such as compactors, and program enhancements, such as a woodshop, kiln, library, chapel, landscaping, veterans memorial and transportation.
Kearney's proposal included the commitment of $10.1 million in funding, utilities discounts and other benefits. Clouse said Kearney will fulfill its financial commitment without a property tax increase. A local veterans committee will add $500,000 to build a memorial on the site.
In addition to Kearney's commitment, the Nebraska Legislature approved $47 million as the state's share of the $121 million cost. The federal government would pay the remainder.
The 330,000-square-foot facility will be built on a 75-acre tract in northeast Kearney, accessible to I-80 from the new Cherry Avenue exit being built near the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument.
The site is west of the Kearney Regional Airport and about 1½ miles north of Cabela's.
The property once was federal land and housed military barracks in the 1940s and 1950s. Now city property, it will be deeded to the state.
Nebraska's veterans homes are in Bellevue, Grand Island, Norfolk and Scottsbluff. They can house a total of 637 people.
During the announcement in Kearney, Heineman said this wasn't the first time the state used a competitive bidding process to locate a new facility.
In 2007, the Fitzgerald Veterans Home in western Douglas County was moved to Bellevue and became the Eastern Nebraska Veterans Home.
In 2009, the state used competitive bidding to locate a National Guard aviation facility in Grand Island. The State Fair moved to Grand Island from Lincoln in 2010 after an open bidding process.
The site selection committee was made up of Carlos Castillo, director of the Department of Administrative Services; Catherine Lang, director of the Department of Economic Development and Labor; and Hilgert.
The committee evaluated each community on nine principal categories and with a possible top score of 1,200 points. Those categories included physical factors, utilities and infrastructure, cultural factors, environmental factors, community services, regulatory factors, workforce factors, community support and program enhancements.
Kearney received a score of 1,033, Hastings 977, Grand Island 889 and North Platte 855.
In the new Kearney facility, the resident rooms will be distributed among long-term care, medically complex, dementia, hospice and assisted living units, in households of 12 to 15 members.
The Grand Island facility opened in 1887 as the Nebraska Soldiers and Sailors Home. It doesn't meet current building codes and standards, including U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs guidelines.
Heineman and Hilgert said the new facility will reflect the pride Nebraskans feel for military personnel and veterans.
“Caring for and serving the men and women who have guaranteed our freedom and security in times of war and times of peace is the right thing to do,'' Hilgert said.
This report includes material from the World-Herald News Service.