SARASOTA -- The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs got a very public nudge today to get back on schedule with construction of Sarasota National Cemetery.
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, said in a press release that the construction of a columbarium with 7,000 spaces is more than a year behind schedule and that more than 100 families are waiting to inter loved ones.
A columbarium is an above-ground structure where funeral urns can be placed.
“This process has now fallen significantly behind schedule,” Buchanan wrote in a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. “As a result, the families of veterans in and around Sarasota are waiting to inter their loved ones at this new VA facility.”
Award of phase 1B construction was originally scheduled for May of 2009 with a May 2011 completion date. In June of 2009, the VA put a $28 million contract out for bid. Over the next 14 months, four contractors were awarded the contract, and subsequently disqualified for failure to meet elements of the bid criterion, Buchanan wrote. Recently, the VA canceled the contract and started over with the bidding process.
Don Courtney of Bradenton, a member of the cemetery advisory committee since 2002, said the break-down in the construction schedule “is putting us behind the eight-ball.”
A representative of Buchanan’s office attended a recent meeting of the advisory committee and took back a request for the congressman to intercede, Courtney said.
“Even once they award the contract, it’s a year and a half before it’s completed. We’re looking at 2012 or later,” Courtney said.
Wesley Jones, cemetery director, said the contract is a set-aside for businesses owned by veterans.“The process allows for protest. The persons who doesn’t get a contract is allowed to protest the contract,” Jones said.
“I’m real excited to tell you that process has ended and we have a presolicitation of construction meeting set for 9 a.m. -noon Sept. 23 the Venice Community Center in Venice,” he said.The Venice Community Center is located at 326 S. Nokomis Ave.
For more, see Wednesday's Bradenton Herald.