Veterans home

Bob Pavlovich, a former state representative and advocate for the Southwest Montana Veterans Home in Butte, helps place a sign a year ago signifying the site of the planned home. Also pictured are volunteer Charlie Delaney, left, and Rich Dwyer, a veteran and the sign painter.

Markovich Construction has gotten the go-ahead to build a new retirement home for military veterans in Butte, and an extra $5 million from the Legislature means it will be constructed as initially envisioned, two Butte lawmakers said Friday.

State Rep. Jim Keane and Senate Minority Leader Jon Sesso, both Democrats, also said lawmakers approved $5 million in bonding authority this week to cover the state's share of a new Montana National Guard armory in Butte's industrial park. The federal government is expected to cover the lion's share of the $22 million project, but the state money was a crucial cog.

The extra $5 million for the Southwest Montana Regional Veterans Home means the entire project as envisioned a decade ago will be built and Markovich has gotten a formal green light to start work.

"It is fantastic, I tell you," Keane told The Montana Standard on Friday.

Sesso echoed that.

"Now we can build it exactly as we had in mind and not be pressured to make any cuts, and we have some money for contingencies," Sesso said.

That means five 12-bedroom cottages, a community center, and sidewalks and breezeways connecting them all. The complex will be constructed on a 10-acre site at Blacktail Loop and Mount Highland Drive, south of Three Bears Alaska.

The project was first floated about a decade ago, and the state earmarked $5 million in funding years ago. But the federal government didn't come through with money until last year, when U.S. Sen. Jon Tester helped secure $8 million in funding.

Because of inflation and a sharper rise in construction costs over those several years, a $12-million to $13-million project back then now costs $18 million or more.

According to Sesso and Mike Lawson, a United Veterans Council commander in Butte, the cost difference meant that two of the 12-bedroom cottages would have to be scrapped unless another $5 million in funding could be found. Sesso said the bid package included three cottages for sure with the possibility of five.

Sesso said Gov. Steve Bullock agreed this session to make the $5 million for the veterans home the top priority in a "cash bill" the Legislature approves every two years to fund various projects around the state.

The bill gained final legislative approval this week, and because of it, there's enough money for all five cottages plus covered sidewalks connecting them and the community center.

"This allows the contractor the money he needs to build a first-class facility and not have to delete things," Keane said.

Lawson called it "huge news."

"If that hadn't have happened, they would have had to drop two of the cottages," he said. "This is a big deal."

Tester issued a statement saying the additional funding and green light on construction was a "huge win for veterans in southwest Montana, and it's been a long time coming."

Lawson said some excavation work should begin by early May and there will be a formal groundbreaking ceremony soon. Construction could take up to 18 months, he said.

The $5 million in state bonding authority for a new National Guard armory was in a separate bond package approved by the Montana Legislature this week. It would cover the state's share of the project, Sesso said, with the other $17 million from federal funds.

The Guard has had an armory at 600 Gilman Ave., just west of Stodden Park on the Flat, since 1961. It is one of the oldest National Guard buildings in the state, but the site is so small, guardsmen often practice drills in the parking lot and alley.

There are plans to build a new armory in Butte's business industrial park, and the county has sold 53 acres to the Guard for the project. According to previous plans, it wouldn't be constructed until 2022, but it would be a modern facility with plenty of space for light training and could meet the Guard's needs here for decades to come, officials say.

Sesso said when one bonding bill was killed this session, he and other members of the "southwest Montana delegation" looked for other avenues and got the $5 million included in a package that passed this week. The delegation includes Butte Democrats and a few Republicans from adjoining counties.

"We said, 'If you want projects that are shovel-ready, we have one in Butte, and that is the new armory,'" Sesso said. "We were very pleased to get it approved."

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Government and politics reporter

Mike Smith is a reporter at the Montana Standard with an emphasis on government and politics.

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