Breaking ground

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Parkside Homes Inc. broke ground Thursday for what is not only the largest private development project in Hillsboro’s history, but one that will also place Parkside on the cutting edge of long-term elder care in the country.

The project, estimated to cost in the range of $11 million if all components develop according to plan, is intended to enhance the dignity of the elderly by moving from a traditional institutional setting and to a family-like environment.

“It’s exciting because we’ll be able to take care of our people in the future in a new way,” said Lu Janzen, Parkside chief executive officer and administrator at a news conference prior to the 6 p.m. ceremony.

At the ceremony, a relatively small crowd-comprised mostly of Parkside residents and staff-several small groups turned sod for a project that will take at least three years to complete, if all goes according to plan.

Specifically, this ceremony launched the first phase of the project: the construction of the first two of five “Park Homes.”

Each ranch-style Park Home will be about 8,000 square feet with 12 private bedrooms and bathrooms for nursing-care residents, and will feature a larger social area with a full kitchen for group gatherings and visits.

Once the first two homes are completed, which is projected for February 2006, the “B Wing” of the present nursing complex will be demolished to make room for two more Park Homes.

The next year, after another portion of the present facility is removed, the fifth Park Home would be constructed.

Once the five Park Homes are constructed, Parkside Homes will remodel the existing nursing home building to provide community gathering space for residents, including a sidewalk cafe, and 14 new assisted-living apartments for the frail elderly.

The way the Park Homes are configured will create two secure courtyards, one which will encourage intergenerational activities, and one which will be more passive with ornamental plantings, plantings that attract wildlife and a kitchen patio.

In all, this part of project involves 76,525 square feet would cost an estimated $8.8 million if all phases were to be done at once. The project will be funded through a revenue-bonds package approved by the city and purchased by Central National Bank.

Beyond that, Parkside also intends to build a community center south of the Park Village congregate-living center, but with private donations. The features of the center would be made available to the entire community, according to the planning team.

Plans call for the facility to include an indoor swimming pool and an intergenerational day care center for community families and staff.

“There’s a lot of features we’d like to put into it, and the more money we get, the more features we can put in,” Galle said.

The plan for the community center also includes creating a park-like area south of the current circle drive in Park Village. The park would incorporate walking and biking paths as well as the existing pond.

Galle estimated the cost of the community center to be between $1.7 million to $2 million, as currently envisioned.

“That is the final stage anticipated in our project,” Galle said. “But if someone wants to donate enough today, we will start building tomorrow. That (timeline) is flexible.”

A new approach to care

The Parkside Homes project is the first in the Midwest that departs from the traditional nursing-care model and provides a true “home” and “healing” environment, according to officials.

“What we’re doing with the Park Homes, believe it or not, is at the center of attention of this industry from a national standpoint,” said Jeff Anderzohn, project architect.

Galle said the project took root more than a year and a half ago when the Parkside board commissioned a use-study of its land and buildings.

The study was important, he said, in the light of a growing “culture change” movement in the industry toward creating a more home-like environment for the frail elderly.

As part of its research, the board visited Meadowlark Home in Manhattan, which had begun making changes in that direction.

“I came back and said it is archaic and inhumane the way we are treating our elderly people,” Galle said. “Seeing this new concept, this is a way people still have dignity.

“When you visit someone now, you go down the hall and step into their little room and that’s it. Here, you’re going to their house, where they’ve become part of a family.”

As administrator, Janzen recruited a planning team of seven people that included experts in the field from four states as well as Galle, Janzen and Glenn Thiessen, Parkside environmental services director.

While similar concepts are being explored by “four or five” other institutions in Kansas, Parkside is the first to begin construction, Galle said.

In addition to having facilities that are designed more like a family home, “culture change” also emphasizes allowing elders to make more choices about how their care should be managed instead of following an institutional schedule.

“People who live in these (Park Homes) will be people who need round-the-clock nursing care, but they’ll choose when they want to wake up in the morning and what they want to have for breakfast-and when they want to have breakfast,” Galle said.

“The residents are in charge of their choices,” he added. “Right now, we follow state and federal regulations (for care), some of which are 40 years old.”

Project flexibility

Galle said the project, as designed, has several advantages. One is a timeline that enables Parkside to keep its occupancy at the usual rate of 60 even in the midst of construction.

“At no point do we have less residents than we have now,” Galle said. “So our revenue will stay the same. In fact, as we build, there are times when we will actually increase the potential to add about 15 to 20 residents.”

A second advantage is that the project can be delayed or even halted at any point, if it is deemed necessary.

“This whole thing is set up so that if the economic environment would happen to really change, we can stop at any point,” Galle said.

“Who knows what the government will do with Medicaid and Medicare-so that could put a crimp into it. We can slow down the project or speed it up.”

A third advantage is that with lower interest rates for bonds, Parkside was to refinance its old bonds and add the cost of new construction without paying back more than it was on its old bonds.

That will enable Parkside to keep from passing on the cost of the project to residents, Galle said.

“The price (of care for residents) has been projected as not changing, other than the normal cost-of-living increases,” he said.

Ultimately, he added, the thing that will make the project work is for the Parkside staff to maintain its high level of care.

“We have tremendous care at this facility,” he said. “We run at 98 percent capacity and the state average is 84 percent. So, financially, we’ve set ourselves up to do this.

“It will continue to work only if we maintain the quality of senior care that we have here,” he added. “That’s what makes this place go, and that’s what makes it viable.”

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