ALAMEDA -- The Veterans Affairs Department could take ownership of land at Alameda Point set aside for a veterans health clinic and a columbarium as soon as next summer, a milestone in a project that has been in the works for at least eight years.

No date has been set for the actual groundbreaking, however, despite Congress authorizing about $208 million for the clinic and columbarium, which would be a national cemetery.

"We do not know when construction might begin," Mark Raymond Chandler of the Alameda County Veterans Affairs Commission said. "But it's definitely going to happen. It's just a question of when."

The outpatient clinic will offer health care for at least 7,000 local veterans, while the columbarium is expected to eventually house the remains of up to 310,000 veterans.

The project is located near a colony of endangered California Least Terns, which nest at the former Alameda Naval Air Station for about four months each year as they migrate along the West Coast.

Along with the bird colony, the approximately 624-acre site will be near a future regional park and have a sweeping view of the San Francisco skyline.

The clinic's design will feature a glass-fronted lobby that will face the skyline, plus an overhanging winglike roof that architect Greg Lehman said was inspired by the bird colony and the site's history as part of the Alameda Naval Air Station.

"People visiting the clinic will have views of San Francisco," Lehman said Monday, when the veterans commission was updated on the project. "We also wanted to capture as much of the natural light as possible."


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Congress has earmarked about $17 million toward the design, said Lawrence Janes, a capital asset manager with the VA.

The U.S. Navy could transfer the property, which is in the northwest of the former base, in August next year, Janes said.

Monday's briefing follows the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issuing a study in August that found the clinic and cemetery would not put the bird colony in jeopardy. The agency was initially calling for a national wildlife refuge at the former Navy base, a proposal that won support from the Golden Gate Audubon Society.

The California Least Tern was declared an endangered species in 1974, when just about 600 pairs were believed to exist. The numbers have gradually increased since then.

The two-story clinic will measure 158,000 square feet on 30 acres and will replace the VA's current facility on Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Oakland.

It will be served by AC Transit and offer a range of services, including specialized treatment for female veterans, said Dr. Ronald Chun, an administrator at the Oakland clinic.

No ground burials will take place at the cemetery, which will be listed on the National Historic Register, since the soil is subject to liquefaction.

A conservation management office staffed by the wildlife service and the East Bay Regional Park Service is also planned for the site. Alameda city leaders formally endorsed the clinic and columbarium in September 2010.

The columbarium is expected to serve veterans and their families for at least 100 years. The designers said the new cemetery will become especially important as less space becomes available at the national cemeteries in San Francisco and San Bruno.

Reach Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654 or follow him on Twitter.com/Peter_Hegarty.

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