Hundreds of St. Johns County residents, many dressed in current and retired military wear, came together Saturday morning for the grand opening of the first veterans' nursing home in Northeast Florida.

The 95,000-square-foot Clyde E. Lassen State Veterans' Nursing Home officially opened its doors to five patients Saturday. The $31 million facility, located at 4650 State Road 16 west of Interstate 95, will eventually house 120 patients.

Congressman John Mica and Florida Rep. Bill Proctor spoke before the crowd that sat in the newly paved driveway of the facility.

Proctor told the audience what an asset the nursing home is for the county.

"This facility is long overdue for our county," said county Commissioner Ron Sanchez.

Sanchez gave thanks to the long list of supporters, including former County Commission Chair Ben Rich and former chair of the veterans council, Tom Waskovich, who dedicated their time and effort to making the nursing home dream a reality.

For patients to be eligible to live in the new nursing home, they must be Florida residents for at least a year, have been honorably discharged from the military and have a certificate of need for skilled nursing care as determined by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The facility is the sixth in the state. The next closest home, in Daytona Beach, is not equipped to handle patients with dementia.

St. Johns County donated the land where the house now sits, Sanchez said. The building was also constructed with energy efficiency in mind, and the county hopes the home will receive an official LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification soon.

"We should not accept this facility as a finale," he said. "We must now look closer for more ways to help veterans who live in our county."