The historic Mills House is gone, and although a couple smaller homes have yet to be sold, vacated or moved, the seven-acre site on the corner of Memorial Drive and West Oglethorpe Highway is almost ready for a major construction project.
According to attorneys Joel and Jay Osteen, Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas and U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, a major construction project is planned for the site — a permanent 23,348-square-foot VA clinic that would serve the medical needs of up to 12,000 local veterans.
“The VA has an option on the property,” confirmed Joel Osteen, co-owner with his brother Jay Osteen. “We bought the 6.3 acres (where the Mills House used to be) in 2005. Then we bought a couple smaller lots with plans to develop it, but the market changed, so we put it up for sale. That’s when the VA option came about.”
Joel Osteen said the process for turning the site into a medical clinic began with a pre-bid conference in Savannah in May 2011. He said contractors’ bids would include a site plan, construction and maintenance costs. Once built, the contractor then would lease the property to the Veterans Administration. Osteen admitted, however, that a contractor has yet to be selected or a project manager assigned by the Savannah Corps of Engineers District, which would oversee the construction project.
During the past several months, elected leaders like Thomas and Kingston have spoken with confidence about the clinic’s construction. However, when contacted for updated information about the VA clinic, the Hinesville Downtown Development Authority, Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission and Kingston’s district office admitted they’re also waiting for updated information from the VA.
When the temporary VA clinic opened in June 2011, VA public affairs officer Jennifer Lovett said a developer was to be selected and a contract awarded by December or January. She said construction would take 18-24 months with the VA occupancy of the clinic taking place by late 2013. Lovett did not respond to requests for an update on the status of the Hinesville VA clinic.
However, Osteen said he recently learned that the VA now plans to award a contract by July, but he has no idea why the selection process is being delayed.
“My understanding is that Congress has already appropriated the money for it, and they’re just looking for the right contractor to build it,” he explained. “As the sellers of the property, our part of the contract is to move all the structures off the property, and we’re doing that. But as the sellers of the property, we really don’t know any more about (the contractor selection process) than anyone else.”
Osteen did say the specifications for the new clinic site plan included an understanding to keep as many of the majestic, moss-covered live oaks on the property as possible.
“They don’t need seven acres for the clinic,” he said. “But they want to make it as nice as possible with plenty of parking space with a picnic area and walking trails.”