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VA shows plan to redo hospital but no blueprint for vacant land

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For the first time, the VA showed a preliminary site plan indicating how the new 180-bed nursing home, 40-bed domiciliary and 150,000-square-foot ambulatory care center it plans to construct on the site of the St. Albans Primary and Extended Care Facility will be positioned.Federal officials also revealed that seven buildings, including five that are currently vacant, will be demolished during the renovation. The chapel that is currently at the facility will be moved, officials said, and the auditorium will be demolished and rebuilt.Karen Williams, a VA official, said it could be three years before the project is completed.The plans varied very little from what was unveiled by the VA in August, when Secretary Jim Nicholson announced the intention to keep the St. Albans facility open.The VA also indicated that it is leaning toward building a "continuing care retirement community," on the approximately 25 unused acres that will remain at the site once the renovations are completed. While stressing that no final decision has been made, Williams said the new facility could possibly give preference and reduced rents to veterans.Several local elected officials, who continue to support a plan to build between one and three schools on the site, testified at the public hearing Monday."Our best and brightest students continue to go to northern Queens to get educated," Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said.But it was clear from the statements of the federal officials in attendance that the VA plans to use the redevelopment of the property to help offset the cost of the renovations. Williams said the VA will lease the land to a developer in exchange for "in-kind" contributions, meaning the developer would receive the land at low cost in exchange for providing the services the VA desire.The veterans community was also well represented Monday. Several veterans continued to question why the VA was not looking to enhance veterans services."We shouldn't have to give up property when we might need to expand in the future," said Pat Toro, president of the Queens Chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America.Reach reporter Craig Giammona by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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