LITTLE ROCK — A state task force Monday put Benton, Fort Smith, Jacksonville and Russellville on a list of finalists for a planned new state veterans home Monday.
Members of the Arkansas Veterans Home Task Force plan to visit each city later this month, though the panel did not rule out considering other sites if they develop.
Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, said the 22-member task force will visit two of the cities on Aug. 19 and the other two on Aug. 21. Details on the tours have yet to be finalized, she said.
The Legislature created the panel during this year’s legislative session to help plan for a new veterans home to replace an old facility in Little Rock that was closed last year after failing building and health code inspections. The task force has until the end of October to make a recommendation to legislators.
A three-member committee recommended the four cities as potential sites for the facility.
Cissy Rucker, director of the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs, said the locations were selected for a number reasons, including easy public access and proximity to health care and medical facilities,
"I don’t want to limit it right now," Rucker told reporters after Monday’s task force meeting at the state Capitol. "You know,we may look at one and say … we’ve overlooked this, or we need to reconsider this, so I just kind of want to leave the options open right now."
The proposed site in Fort Smith is on 25 acres at Chaffee Crossing, adjacent to the proposed Interstate 49 route and existing major roadways connecting to Barling, Greenwood and Van Buren. It is near the Chaffee Historic District and museums and adjacent to Camp Hope for Heroes, a service facility for veterans. The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority proposed the site.
Both Rucker and English questioned the feasibility of locating the new state veterans home in Fort Smith, noting the only other state home for veterans is in Fayetteville, less than 60 miles to the north.
The proposed site a Benton is on more than 20 acres near the Arkansas Health Center, about two miles southwest of the city limits off Interstate 30. The proposal was made by the Saline County Economic Development Corporation.
The proposed site in Jacksonville is on about 57 acres near the backside of Little Rock Air Force Base near the intersections of General Samuels Road, Swift Drive and Commerce Street. It is 1.2 miles from a hospital and clinic. The proposal was made by the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.
The proposed site in Russellville is on about 22.5 acres Sixth Street and Tyler Road, near Arkansas 324, U.S. 64 and less than a mile from Interstate 40. The proposal was made by the Arkansas Valley Alliance for Economic Development.
More than 30 localities across the state submitted proposals for locating the new veterans home.
The Legislature approved enabling legislation for the new facility this year, along with $7.5 million in funding. Charles Johnson, deputy director of state Department of Veterans Affairs, said Monday that the remaining $14 million in federal matching funds has been received, making the expected cost of the new veterans home nearly $22 million.
Rucker said the plans call for the new facility to house 100 veterans and will provide long-term and short-term care, as well as mental health services and rehabilitation.