Thursday, March 28, 2019

Sallisaw Veterans Center Federal Funding Secured

A new veterans center proposed for Sallisaw is one step closer to reality.

The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs announced this week that it had secured federal funding from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for the new veterans center in Sallisaw.

Shane Faulkner, the public information officer for the ODVA, said the federal VA has approved up to $65 million for the relocation of the center from Talihina to Sallisaw.

“We don’t think we’ll need all that,” Faulkner said. “Looking at the cost analysis, what some of the other centers have cost, we estimate it to be $50 to $55 million; but again, that cost could go up.”

Original estimates for the project were at $100 million, including $65 million in federal funding and $35 million financed through the state of Oklahoma.

While honoring Oklahoma veterans at the state capitol Wednesday, Gov. Kevin Stitt mentioned the new veterans center moving to Sallisaw.

Faulkner said the next step is the design process, including architectural, engineering and design aspects. He said an engineering group has already been hired.

“We’re still a little ways out from turning dirt, but not near as far as we thought,” he said, noting that ODVA thought it could take until next year for the project to be listed and approved for the federal VA funds.

“We are the most expensive project on that list,” he added.

Faulkner said the 175-bed facility planned for Sallisaw will employ 300 people, many of whom they hope to retain from the Talihina facility.

“There is a relocation package we’re offering to any of the employees who want to make the move to Sallisaw,” Faulkner said, noting that the Talihina center currently has 92 veteran residents. “We’re hoping to help them with that. There’s a great staff there.”

He also said Sallisaw will be closer for a majority of families of the veterans there, as many of them live closer to Sallisaw than Talihina. Faulkner said only eight or nine families live within driving distance to the Talihina center.

The new veterans center will be constructed on 90 acres that the City of Sallisaw agreed to provide in its initial incentive package. The city is in the process of securing the property.

Sallisaw City Manager Keith Skelton announced that the federal funds had been approved at the March Sallisaw Chamber of Commerce membership meeting to rousing cheers from the crowd.

“We look forward to getting the veterans center in operation here as quickly as possible and welcoming the veterans to give them the quality of life they deserve,” Skelton said.

Faulkner said ODVA officials, along with veterans and their families were excited about the move as well.

“Seeing the excitement in the city of Sallisaw, it’s pumping us up even more,” Faulkner said. “To see how your community is responding, it’s very exciting to us. We look forward to being there and to start building soon.”

Faulkner said since legislation to halt the relocation was not heard out of committee and is now considered a “dead bill,” they are moving “full steam ahead” with the new Sallisaw facility.

“I think we’re shocking some people just how quickly we’re moving,” Faulkner said. “There’s so much excitement. America’s newest veterans center will be in Oklahoma.”

The ODVA hopes the Sallisaw veterans center is completed and in operation within 2 ½ years.

Pam Cloud, Managing News Director

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