Commissioners put support behind Preston site for possible veterans home

By Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Fillmore County commissioners made a very notable decision during the Tuesday, April 10, County Board meeting — voting on whether Preston or Spring Valley would make the best home for a new state veterans home. The commissioners’ vote was required by the state in order to proceed, ultimately recognizing that no matter where the retirement facility is located in Fillmore County, it would be a great asset to the county in countless ways. This home would provide a place for veterans and their spouses to receive skilled care, offering jobs for local residents and opening a gateway for visitors to the home to explore the county’s recreational opportunities.

Each commissioner had the opportunity to state his position before the ballot vote was taken, and Commissioner Duane Bakke’s turn informed the full boardroom of his intentions.

He first thanked the committees of both communities for their efforts in drawing the state’s attention to Fillmore County as a suitable location for a veterans home.

He observed that Preston has been involved in the push to locate a home here since 2013, that it is the home of the state veterans’ cemetery — where ceremonies honoring veterans are held on Memorial Day and in December — and the city is a “veteran-friendly” community. He also noted local tourist outlets are willing to offer discounted admission to families visiting veterans and that recreational opportunities abound along the highway corridors that pass through town.

“All of these items considered, Preston could eventually become a veterans campus…visitors can come to see their loved ones and take advantage of the tourist opportunities. There’s lodging in the area, a paved bicycle trail, water activities, it’s a short drive to Mystery Cave, Niagara Cave, Amish tours. All of this is in Fillmore County, but I’m going to register my support for Preston. They’ve worked for five years to build support and they’ve got 16 letters of support from local businesses.”

Bakke went on to point out the site Preston has offered is beautiful and the estimated $360,000 the local committee has raised toward the home’s location was more than the amount Spring Valley’s committee was able to gather.

“For those reasons and more, I plan to vote for the Preston site,” he said.

Commissioner Randy Dahl stated he is very glad the residents of Fillmore County have shown their support for veterans’ well-being and he was honored to have people interested in building a place for them to live.

Commissioner Mitch Lentz compared the sites being considered, remarking that one has a beautiful location and is willing to build the infrastructure around it, while the other has the infrastructure and a scenic landscape on which to build. He announced his intention to vote for the Spring Valley site.

Bakke then read a resolution drafted for the occasion that began, “Whereas, several communities have been contending for the construction of a veterans home…and the communities…expect the Fillmore County Board of Commissioners to vote upon a decision that they will support and abide by…that (the decision) does not include any financial support.”

Bakke interjected that no financial consideration has been made by the county, but that at some point in the future, contributions are not out of the question.

Commissioner Gary Peterson added his comment, stating, “I want to say how proud I am of you folks who have been out working for this…it’s good and very true.”

A roll call vote was taken, with Dahl voting for Preston, Peterson for Spring Valley, Commissioner Marc Prestby for Preston, Bakke for Preston and Lentz for Spring Valley.

Lentz announced that a majority opinion had been reached and that Preston would be the future site of the home if the state and federal veterans’ entities choose to grant the funding and authority.

He and Bakke thanked everyone involved with the initial effort for the home’s location in Fillmore County.

Bakke said, “That was the first step. We’re now back at ground zero — now we have to make an effort to get it in southeastern Minnesota…Minneapolis’s home is adding beds…the cost of the beds has doubled to approximately $21 million from the $10 million we were talking about before. It’s still not a done deal — if they did something this year, they’d have to have it in by April 15, 2019, and in 2020, it would be (in the hands) of the federal government, and it will probably be 2025 or 2026 before it opens, because we wouldn’t be having groundbreaking next year.”

Bakke shared that he had recently attended a meeting in the Twin Cities with representatives of the veterans’ affairs departments, noting, “The good news for everyone in that room should’ve heard us loud and clear…they could’ve done something with those initial requests to build homes (including Montevideo and Bemidji), but (they waited).”

Following the final vote, committee members departed the boardroom and mingled in the hallway outside before leaving the courthouse, with the Spring Valley committee members congratulating the Preston committee members on the progress toward a place to honor veterans as they enjoy their last years of retirement.