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State Budget Fight Threatens to Delay Opening of Veterans Home in Dunning

 The 200-bed facility will be built on what is now vacant land in Dunning.
Dunning Veterans Home
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DUNNING — The opening of a veterans facility in Dunning that will house veterans suffering from Alzheimer's Disease and dementia will be delayed six months because of the fight over the state budget, officials said Tuesday.

The $70.5 million facility — the fifth of its kind in Illinois and the first in Chicago — is under construction on the grounds of the former Chicago-Read Mental Health Center and adjacent to the Dunning-Read Conservation Area, a 23-acre oasis of wetlands and woodlands being restored to its natural state.

State Rep. Robert Martwick (D-Jefferson Park) and State Sen. John Mulroe (D-Norwood Park) said they were disappointed the veterans home had been caught in the budget crossfire between Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democrats who control the General Assembly.

"I'm disappointed," Martwick said. "These cuts don't make any sense. It seems heartless."

Rauner has vowed to slash $820 million from the 2016 state budget because of a shortfall in revenues, including the money set aside for the facility's start-up costs, unless lawmaker adopt his agenda designed to spur business growth in Illinois.

"Our veterans should not be used for leverage in a budget battle," Mulroe said. "This is not the right way to go about this."

While a federal grant will cover the cost of 65 percent of the cost to build the facility, the state set aside $4 million to furnish, staff and equip the 200-bed home near Oak Park Avenue and Irving Park Road, in the 2016 budget, said Ryan Yantis, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Veterans.

While the facility had been expected to open in July 2016, it will now open in January 2017 because of the budget uncertainty, said Lyndsey Walters, spokeswoman for the Illinois Capital Development Board, which is overseeing construction of the facility.

The delay could jeopardize that federal grant, Martwick said. The facility has been in the works since 2009.

"It is atrocious to put this on the chopping block," Martwick said. "This is crucial for our veterans."

The 7.8-acre project promises to reshape the far Northwest corner of the city, which has been vacant since the mental health facility was torn down decades ago, officials said.

The five-story facility at 4250 N. Oak Park Ave. will feature single rooms with private bathrooms as well as common dining and recreation areas for its residents, officials said. Forty-four beds will be set aside for veterans with dementia or Alzheimer's Disease.

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