Robert L. Neary, Jr.
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Buyer and members of the Committee. I am pleased to appear before the Committee today to discuss the progress that is being made to improve facilities at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) in Gainesville and at the new Jacksonville VA National Cemetery. This hearing provides an opportunity to update the Committee and members of the Veteran community on the status of the major construction project currently under construction at Gainesville. First, let me introduce those joining me at the table today, Mr. Reginald Lawrence, Team Leader at the Jacksonville Vet Center that is part of the Veterans Health Administration Readjustment Counseling Service, and Mr. Tom Cappello, Director of the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System.
In August of 2008, VA began construction on a new patient bed tower at the North Florida South Georgia VA facility in Gainesville. This new five-story tower will provide 226 private patient rooms with private toilet and bathing facilities. The patient bedrooms will occupy four floors. Patient care support services will be on the ground floor. In total, 245,000 gross square feet of new construction will be provided.
This facility will provide state-of-the-art patient bedrooms. Currently, most bedrooms in the Gainesville hospital have two or more beds. The new rooms will enable greater patient privacy, a better opportunity for patients to interact with their families and caregivers and better prevent infections.
Funding in the amount of $136.7 million has been appropriated for this facility. Construction is now ongoing with the project approximately 15 percent complete. The project is scheduled to be completed in April 2011.
The Department recently opened the new VA National Cemetery in Jacksonville for burials. This was accomplished through the development of a small portion of the property. The design of the larger first phase of build-out for the new cemetery was recently completed and is undergoing final design review. We anticipate awarding a construction contract in August of this year. When completed in the summer of 2011, approximately 50 acres will have been developed to accommodate burials for 10 years. This will include approximately 7,500 gravesites for casket interments, a 4,500 niche columbarium, 500 in-ground sites for cremated remains along with an administration and public information center with an electronic gravesite locator, a memorial walkway area and necessary maintenance facilities. Funds totaling $22.4 million have been appropriated for this new National Cemetery.
These projects demonstrate the Nation’s commitment to care for our Veteran heroes. Not only in Gainesville and Jacksonville, but across the country, new and improved facilities for Veterans are in design or construction. Since 2004, nearly $5.6 billion have been appropriated for the Department’s major construction program with over 50 major projects receiving funding to provide new facilities and improve and expand existing ones.
We look forward to completing the new Gainesville bed tower and the Jacksonville cemetery as well as facilities at other locations, and we will be pleased to answer questions the Committee may have.