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Heavy work begins at Retsil

Excavation work is nearly complete for the basement of the new dining hall at Ret-sil Veterans’ Home, clearing the way for installation of a new steam heating system.

Work on the facility’s $47 million upgrade has actually been going on for months, although the excavation was the first major outdoor portion of the project. Most of what has been done so far simply prepared the buildings and the residents for renovations yet to come.

The first order of business, said Retsil’s acting superintendent John Lee, was to move all the asbestos from the seven buildings slated for demolition.

Retsil staff carefully moved affected residents to new, temporary on-site housing, then work crews sealed off the buildings and started the removal process. The work started late last summer and, Lee said, is still not quite complete. This is not a problem, he explained, because Retsil officials preferred the work to be done slowly and accounted for the extra time in their project projections.

“We did it slowly, with the least amount of disruption,” Lee said. “It’s been a really well-executed process.”

When asbestos removal is complete, the crews could technically move right on to demolition. However, Lee said they chose to wait until next month to start knocking buildings down.

First, they plan to install the new steam system as a way to guard against unexpected system failures. The old system, he pointed out, is very fragile and collapsing buildings could cause ruptures and leaks to form.

Currently, nearly all departments and residents affected by the upcoming demolition work have already been relocated. Retsil officials even arranged to have a portable version of the facility’s therapeutic activities center — a choice Lee said is very popular with residents.

In fact, Lee admitted, residents have told him they like the portable center better than the old center, which is being upgraded as well.

“I wanted it to be a move up, not a move out,” Lee said. “It really is a wholistic, better-coordinated facility.”

The only facility that won’t have a temporary version is Retsil’s main kitchen. Lee said it would have been a logistic nightmare to try and find a different spot for food preparation, so the current plan is to tear the dining hall down in stages, leaving the kitchen until last. The new dining facility will also be built in stages, so the new kitchen will go in before the old one comes down.

The primary concern, Lee said, is making sure residents are moved as little as possible. By moving residents into temporary housing, officials are ensuring they only have to be moved twice — once out of their old rooms and once into their new rooms. Lee said the portables will also allow staff to take as long as they need to move people as carefully as is necessary.

“We’re not going to rush moving people,” Lee said. “We’re going to get them into their new rooms in a way that doesn’t disturb them.”

The new, $40 million nursing facility is the centerpoint of the planned reservations.

The 240-bed capacity will add 90 beds to the current facility and improve the living conditions of residents as well. The new rooms will be carpeted, private and a bit larger than the ones in the old building. NBBJ’s Carl Tully, the lead architect on the project, said although state regulations mandate a minimum percentage of shared rooms, it was a priority to make those shared rooms as private as possible. Therefore, the designers included a full wall between the sleeping quarters, a solid barrier which replaces the curtain dividers in many of the older rooms.

Each bed will also have its own window.

In addition, the rooms will be care-universal, which means every room can be used for every level of care — from independent living to full nursing supervision. The idea, Tully said, was to prevent residents from having to undergo the jarring experience of moving from facility to facility as their conditions deteriorated. The rooms will also be set up in “neighborhoods” centered around common areas to enhance the feeling of permanence and security.

“We are confident that if there is a facility anywhere better designed, we don’t know where it is,” Lee said.

Active construction will run from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday only. Lee said it was important to take into consideration the needs of the neighbors, especially while wrecking was going on.

Even with the work time restriction, Lee expects the project to be finished by this time in 2005.

“This thing is going to happen pretty fast,” he said.

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