Vet’s home may be completed by Dec.
by KEVIN GROSS
Governor J.B. Pritzker joined federal, state and local officials for a topping-off ceremony on March 15 at the Chicago Veterans’ Home site, 4250 N. Oak Park Ave., following years of delays since former Governor Pat Quinn first commissioned the project in 2009.
"When this home welcomes its first residents, they will find a place built to foster a sense of community and home," Pritzker said in a news release. "This is the type of home our veterans deserve, and with nearly half of our state’s veterans living in the city of Chicago, this home is long overdue. My administration is committed to seeing this work through, and getting it done efficiently, effectively, and as quickly as possible."
Prtizker was joined at the event by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill), state Senator John Mulroe (D-10), state Representative Robert Martwick (D-19), aldermen Nicholas Sposato (38th) and Gilbert Villegas (36th), Alderman-elect Jim Gardiner (45th) and other officials, veterans and workers. The Steinmetz Prep High School JROTC Color Guard was also present.
Work crews cast a 6,000-pound concrete slab, the last major structural component of the five-story, 187,000-square-foot structure that will serve as the fifth Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs facility and Chicago’s first dedicated long-term veterans’ care center after its opening date slated for December, according to the release.
The facility will feature 200 beds, 28 independent "households," some with residential kitchens, a commercial kitchen, administrative and support offices, and recreational and outdoor space, the release said.
"Today’s topping off celebration marks a major milestone in the construction of the new, 200-bed Chicago Veterans’ Home," acting Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs director Linda Chapa LaVia said. "It’s a celebration about progress, a celebration about what’s to come, and an opportunity to bring us together to recognize the hard work of the construction team, the support by our elected officials, and how important this facility is to our veterans."
The long-delayed project was helped by the release of $20.5 million in state funds in November of 2018 and $3.8 million in February, after costs increased from about $92 million to about $117.7 million.
"Senator (Tammy) Duckworth and I have worked to ensure that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has the funding it needs to support Illinois. The VA’s State Home Construction Grant Program has historically helped a number of Illinois Veterans’ Homes, including for new construction such as the new Chicago Veterans’ Home," Durbin said in the release. "The Chicago Veterans’ Home will help those with critical illnesses and needs, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, and the homeless and disabled. I will continue to work with Senator Duckworth to boost funding for the VA’s State Home Construction Grant Program, and we will continue to ensure federal support for projects like this in Illinois."
The project is managed by the Illinois Capital Development Board, whose spokeswoman Nicole Wilson said in December that the released state funds were essential for "increased costs related to a major structural design error included in the original architectural and engineering drawings as well as additional costs associated with suspending the project."
The structural design error by the original engineering firm Harley Ellis Devereaux and its consultant firm Matrix was first discovered in March of 2017, after they placed foundations that were based on Chicago building codes, which were not up to more-stringent federal standards for earthquake safety and gravitational load standards.
"CDB development projects require all contracts to adhere to state standards, which are related to an international building code," former CDB spokeswoman Leslie Strain said in November of 2017. "That code requires all contracted firms to adhere to those stndards."
Certain structures were partially constructed under the wrong standards before the discovery of the error and required partial demolition, including 34 of the 79 previously installed concrete panels, which resulted in an estimated 18-month project delay.
The recent topping-off ceremony marks the beginning of the end for a project marred by delays since it broke ground in September of 2014, including about 2 years of funding holdups related to the state budget impasse between former Governor Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly, during which Mulroe unsuccessfully introduced legislation to release funding originally budgeted for the project.
"This marks a major step forward in our efforts to provide the best care possible to the men and women who served our country," Mulroe said. "This day should have come sooner, but rather than focus on the past, I want to look forward to seeing this facility’s completion."