County lands grant to study VA Complex acquisition

Custer County has received a $25,000 planning grant, one of two needed to pay for a feasability study to determine if the county should take possession of the former Veterans Administration (VA) medical center complex in Miles City.

The county commissioners, after seeking and receiving several extensions from the VA for determining if they’ll accept the aging facilities, now have until the end of the year to decide. If they decline, the property could be sold at public auction.

The grant came compliments of the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund, and includes an additional $2,000 for administrative costs. Commissioners were updated on the effort Tuesday by Tracy Baker of the Miles City Area Economic Development Corporation and Southeastern Montana Development Corporation (SEMDC).

 Commissioners have also appplied for a $27,000 federal grant from the Economic Development Administration.

Julie Emmons of SEMDC told commissioners during their meeting Tuesday that they should learn by mid-May if the county will receive the stipend, which would cover the balance of the $52,000 feasability study.

Although the mid-May notification date would delay the study slightly, Emmons said “a significant amount of work has already been done” on studying the VA Complex, “so we are not starting from ground zero.”

Reports on operating equipment, environmental remediation, and repairs and maintenance at the complex were recently completed, so the architectural analysis would not need to be extensive, Emmons reported.

Emmons said the representatives from the Big Sky Trust Fund toured the complex before approving the grant. She said they “viewed it as a really unique opportunity, but a daunting task.”

The commissioners discussed how long a feasibility study would take to complete. Emmons said her best guess was that the study, which would normally take six to nine months, could be completed in three or four months.

County Commissioner Keith Holmlund said that when they advertise the “Request for Qualifications” for conducting the study, it will be made clear that the study had to be completed “as quickly as the law allows.” The selection of the company that will conduct the study will also be made as quickly as possible, he said.

Emmons said the “scope of work” for the study will be included in the advertisement requesting applicants, enabling the winning bidder to begin work immediately.

The medical center and ancillary buildings opened in 1951 and closed in 1997. Only a rest home and a clinic remain, but space in the former hospital has been rented to businesses and agencies. It also houses the Miles City Police Department, and the Montana Highway Patrol. 

A sustainable energy funding program and Billings-based High Plains Architects have proposed renovating the hospital and leasing residential and commerical space.

Before making that decision, commissioners want to have a feasibility study done to evaluate the financial viability of project.

(Contact Amorette Allison at mcreporter@midrivers.com or (406) 234-0450.)