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Work could begin soon on new SD Veterans Home

By Chet Brokaw

PIERRE (AP) — Work is expected to begin in late September on a new State Veterans Home in Hot Springs after the project was redesigned to lower costs, a state official said Wednesday.

The Legislature had authorized spending $41.3 million in state and federal money to build a new 100-bed home on the same Black Hills property where the current facility is located, but the project was held up last spring when the lowest bid was considerably above projections, leading to an estimated total project cost of $53.1 million.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard had said earlier a new plan for the Veterans Home might be presented to the Legislature when it holds it regular 2014 session in January.

But Eric Matt, a member of the governor's staff, told a legislative committee Wednesday that state officials have been working with an architect and construction company to redesign the facility to bring its cost back below the $41.3 million authorized price. Scull Construction of Rapid City, which submitted the low bid last spring, will manage the project and provide a guaranteed maximum price.

Scull Construction will present its initial cost estimates to state officials next week, but officials are confident the redesigned Veterans Home can be built for less than $41.3 million, Matt said.

Officials do not expect to ask the Legislature for any additional money for the project, which could be completed by November 2015, Matt said.

"We've been digging into this, and we've made some changes. We're in the preliminary stages, but we feel good about things and things are on track," Matt told the Legislature's Government Operations and Audit Committee.

The redesigned building will be two stories instead of one, with nursing home beds on the first floor and assisted living apartments on the top floor, Matt said. The building's smaller outside dimensions will reduce site preparation costs such as rock removal, he said. The outside of the building has been simplified, and the boiler plant will be moved closer to the building to save electrical and plumbing costs.

In addition, the state Transportation Department has offered to help transport debris from old buildings that will be torn down on the site, and the South Dakota National Guard may help with site preparation work, Matt said.

Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettyburg, said lawmakers want to make sure the redesigned facility provides high quality care to veterans who are patients there.

"We haven't cut any corners that we think are going to reduce the quality of care. We think it's going to be a great facility," Matt said. "Our No. 1 priority is to provide really great care for these patients. We don't think this jeopardizes that in any way."

Rep. Susan Wismer, D-Britton, noted that officials have been able to cut project costs considerably.

"That just seems like a pretty big cut for accomplishing the same thing. I hope it works," Wismer said.

Daugaard had intended to call the Legislature into a special session in June to approve up to $10 million in additional spending on the project, but he canceled the special session after the federal Veterans Administration extended a $23.6 million grant to give the state more time to make design changes and finalize construction plans.

Matt said he's confident the VA will approve the design changes.