March 8, 2012 | Vol 42, No. 10

Motel sought for veterans’ home

Haines Assisted Living is negotiating to buy the Thunderbird Motel as the site of a possible veterans’ home in Haines.

Purchase would be funded by a $500,000 legislative appropriation secured by state Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, to HAL last year for a feasibility study of a home. The appropriation also could be used to reduce HAL debt and acquire project property, HAL president Jim Studley said in a prepared statement this week.

Studley said Monday that HAL had signed a non-disclosure agreement with the motel’s owners. “We have not completed the purchase of the TBM so technically HAL has not bought this building.”

Mike and Betty Ricker of Haines own the 20-room motel that sits on .62 acres at Dalton Street and Second Avenue. The property is appraised at $404,430, including the $121,700 value of the lot.

The motel, which typically is busy with heli-skiers this time of year, is closed and its phone is disconnected. The Rickers did not respond to questions via e-mail.

In an e-mail, Studley said HAL would seek $6.1 million in funds through Rep. Thomas for construction of the home for 10 to 20 veterans. The home would have five to 10 rooms and a common area for recreation or rehabilitation. Studley said a feasibility study on such a facility was nearly complete, and not yet public.

“The preliminary work … indicates a positive development project could be constructed and made to operate successfully in Haines for veterans,” Studley wrote. “HAL has been requested to make this project possible pending research and if funding is satisfactory to the involved parties.”

In a letter to the Alaska Legislature last year, Studley said the capital funds would develop a “shovel-ready project for presentation to various funders” including U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Veterans’ Administration, foundations, Health and Human Services and local donors.

Thomas started talking about the project a few years ago. In recent months, support for it has come from the Lynn Canal American Legion Post, the Alaska Veterans Advisory Council and the Haines Borough Assembly.

Borough Mayor Stephanie Scott said this week she couldn’t see a downside to it. “It’s jobs, good jobs. We’re the fastest-growing retirement community in Southeast Alaska and we’re capitalizing on our reputation. Taking care of our elders is a great job for young people.”

Such a project could boost medical care here by bringing more health professionals to town, she said.

Verdie Brown is director of the state office of veterans’ affairs. Under Thomas’ proposal, the facility would become the first home in the state for veterans between the ages of 18 and 65, Brown said. A 50-bed veterans’ home in Palmer is only for those of retirement age, he said.

Alaska vets returning from recent wars who may need day-to-day assistance now must go to a home in Seattle, he said. “Anyplace in Alaska would be good because anywhere would be closer than Seattle,” Brown said. Proximity of the proposed home to an existing assisted living facility means a potential reduction in costs of service to veterans, he said.

Separate from the project’s feasibility study, Brown said his office would investigate numbers of veterans who would be eligible to stay at such a facility. “We’re in the process of trying to figure out the numbers of people who fit into that demographic. We may have a need greater than the size of this center.”

HAL’s Studley said the Palmer home has a long waiting list and no plans to expand for veterans. Baby Boom-era veterans are aging, he said. “Southeast vets want to stay in Southeast when they are too aged to live independently, and younger vets needing rehabilitative services want them close to home.”

In a Dec. 5 letter to the borough seeking assembly support, Studley said HAL would contribute $270,000 in property and other resources to the project. He said this week the contribution would involve “a lot in front of HAL on Dalton and Third, plus some cash.”

When HAL sought the 2011 legislative request, Studley checked a “no” box on the appropriation request form to the question, “Has this project been through a public review process at the local level and is it a community priority?”

Studley said he answered “no” because HAL hadn’t sought borough approval at the time of the 2011 request. Studley noted that a borough resolution supports the request in the legislature’s 2012 capital budget.