Herald-Whig

Pritzker impressed with progress at Illinois Veterans Home, pledges continued support

Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker takes questions during a press conference at Lester Hammond Hall in Quincy on Thursday, Mar. 14, 2019. Gov. Pritzker toured the Illinois Veterans Home campus and Hammond Hall while in Quincy. | H-W Photo/Katelyn Metzger
Katelyn Metzger 1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 14, 2019 2:50 pm

QUINCY -- Pledging to "keep our veterans safe and secure," Gov. J.B. Pritzker toured the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy on Thursday.

Two months after he was inaugurated, Pritzker said he wants to expedite construction of new buildings and other upgrades at the veterans home.

"I'm very impressed with what's going on both on the campus, serving our veterans, and also the way that the transition is taking place moving people here to the Hammond facility," Pritzker said.

Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs Acting Director Linda Chapa LaVia said by using the design-build concept, she hopes to "cut off two years" from the construction timeline at the veterans home. Design-build puts the project on a fast track where a team works from start to completion.

"We're really hoping to break soft ground by later this year," Chapa LaVia said.

If that occurs, she hopes the $230 million facility will be completed in less than three years.

"I'm excited for the people of Quincy," Chapa LaVia said.

Pritzker said he's already met with federal lawmakers from Illinois about getting the 65 percent match to help with the veterans home project. He also is working with state lawmakers to make sure the 35 percent share from the state will be available when its needed.

Illinois Veterans Home Superintendent Troy Culbertson said there are 25 residents at Lester Hammond Hall, 720 Sycamore. They were moved there from the Veterans Home just a few blocks to the north, clearing out some of the older buildings that will be demolished to make room for new structures.

As soon as the Veterans Administration signs off on occupancy in other parts of Hammond Hall, another 50 or more residents will be moved there.

Hammond Hall has gotten about $17 million in renovations since it was purchased last year. The former Sycamore Healthcare building was sold to the state for $625,000. Culbertson said officials with the Illinois Capital Development Board said the cost per square foot was lower than the costs of some new buildings the state is constructing.

State Sen. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, took the tour with Pritzker and talked with him and other state officials about getting the grant for Quincy to change its water system to a below ground intake that will eliminate the threat of Legionella bacteria.

There have been 13 deaths and more than 60 illnesses connected to Legionella bacteria at the Veterans Home since 2015.

Pritzker said a task force is looking at safety standards for water and other inputs at all four of the veterans homes in Illinois. That effort was put together after an illness at the Illinois Veterans Home in Manteno was attributed to Legionella recently.

Culbertson said a new power grid will have to be installed at the veterans home before new buildings can be erected. He said the power supply on the 210-acre campus at this time is not adequate for the new buildings.