KEARNEY — The Central Nebraska Veterans’ Home at Kearney already has its first two residents: a turtle and a bullfrog in the fishing pond.

Although they’re both hibernating for the winter, Alex Willford, currently administrator of the Grand Island Veterans’ Home, said some veterans have already specified their preference in rooms at the new facility.

“I’ve already had one lady say she wanted to see the sun come up out of the east, so she wants an east-facing room. I’ve had someone else say they want to be close to the lake because they’re going to go out and go fishing all the time,” said Willford, the future administrator of the Kearney site.

Willford spoke to a group of about 30 members of the Kearney Noon Rotary club Monday about progress being made at the Kearney facility. Three homes on the west side of the campus along Cherry Avenue at 56th Street are up and enclosed. The maintenance building, on the east side of the campus near the Kearney National Guard Armory, also is ready for use.

The 225-bed, 330,000-square-foot facility is expected to be completed by the end of 2018 or early in 2019. The campus will have six neighborhoods, each with three homes with 12 to 15 veterans living in private rooms. There will be a special care unit, a skilled care unit and an independent living area.

Each home will have its own support system, dining room, activity kitchen, den and a family/dining room area, something the Grand Island facility lacks.

“I’m very excited about this and about having all this extra space,” Willford said.

Veterans currently living in Grand Island will have the first priority for residency at the new facility and will be allowed to pick their own room. Those veterans, Willford said, are excited about the bigger rooms and having individual bathrooms. In Grand Island, veterans share bathrooms that are about 45 square feet and the living area has about 80 square feet. In the new Kearney facility, the bathroom alone has 71 square feet.

“We’ll be able to serve our veterans much better here at this new location,” Willford said.

There is currently a waiting list for other veterans wanting to live in the new facility.

Similar to the current veterans home, the Kearney facility will have an on-site clinic, pharmacy, physicians assistant and nurse practitioner, and will partner with CHI Health Good Samaritan to provide outpatient services. Unique to the new veterans home will be the craft area that includes a chapel, wood shop, library and the Fox Hole, an open roof officer’s club-like area.

Some Grand Island Veterans’ Home residents have toured the construction site and are excited about Patriot Park, the eight-plex baseball and softball fields across 56th Street just south from the new veterans home.

“They are just tremendously excited about that opportunity. They’ve already asked me where the sidewalk is that will go across to the ballpark,” Willford said.

Korean war veteran Norvin Pearce, 85, of Kearney, and a Rotarian, drives by the construction site almost daily because he’s excited about the progress crews are making. In January, he plans to apply to live at the facility. The retired engineer served in the U.S. Army from 1952-1954.

“I figured that was the best place to go once you get feeble and couldn’t get around,” he said. “The veterans home, I think, would be the best economical way for me to finish out my life,” he said. “I feel real excited that it’s going to be in Kearney.”update