'A legacy project': DuPage Care Center to undergo $31.5 million renovation

  • A rendering by Knight Engineers and Architects shows plans for the first major renovation of the DuPage Care Center in about 30 years.

    A rendering by Knight Engineers and Architects shows plans for the first major renovation of the DuPage Care Center in about 30 years. Courtesy of DuPage County

  • "First and foremost, this project will touch every single resident room," Nick Kottmeyer, the county's chief administrative officer, said of a planned renovation at the DuPage Care Center.

    "First and foremost, this project will touch every single resident room," Nick Kottmeyer, the county's chief administrative officer, said of a planned renovation at the DuPage Care Center. Courtesy of DuPage County

  • A rendering depicts a resident common area and nursing station in a renovated DuPage Care Center.

    A rendering depicts a resident common area and nursing station in a renovated DuPage Care Center. Courtesy of DuPage County

  • The DuPage Care Center stands across from the county government complex in Wheaton.

    The DuPage Care Center stands across from the county government complex in Wheaton. Daily Herald file photo

 
 
Posted8/26/2022 5:15 AM

The DuPage Care Center has a long history in Wheaton, but it's showing its age.

The nursing stations are cramped. The fire system hasn't been upgraded in more than 20 years, administrators say. And the resident rooms, while adequately sized, can feel dark and dated.

 

But a major overhaul is slated to transform the county-owned nursing home into a more modern facility with a new entrance, more inviting communal areas and remodeled living spaces for its 300 residents.

"I very much think that this is a legacy project," county board member Julie Renehan said.

The county is moving ahead with plans for the first large-scale renovation of the care center in some three decades.

The project could cost as much as $31.5 million, about $9 million more than originally estimated because of inflation and rising material prices.

Officials had already set aside $19.6 million in federal coronavirus relief funds and a $2 million donation from retired county judge Kenneth Moy to pay for the project.

County board members have now agreed to earmark $3 million in additional American Rescue Plan funds, plus $3 million of the county's surplus revenue, to help cover unforeseen costs due to inflation. In addition, the care center could reallocate $2.5 million in COVID-19 relief and $520,000 in capital reserves for the project.

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Officials will pin down the actual cost when the county bids out construction contracts at the end of the year, but they're planning ahead for the "worst-case scenario" to ensure the work is fully funded.

"Some of the buildings we're touching over at the care center were built in the 1800s," said Nick Kottmeyer, the county's chief administrative officer. "There's no telling what we're going to find, and we'll have to react accordingly."

Back in the 1880s, the site served as a county "poor farm." Those who lived at the "Alms House" worked the farmland, grew vegetables and raised livestock.

The Alms House eventually evolved into the DuPage Convalescent Center along County Farm Road. With 368 licensed beds, the facility provides long-term care and short-term rehabilitative services for hundreds of patients, most of whom have Medicaid, the government's insurance program for low-income people.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

County governments are not required to operate long-term care facilities, and few in the region do. But DuPage supports the operation with a $2 million annual subsidy.

With millions in federal pandemic aid at their disposal, officials say now is the time to embark on the county's "biggest flagship project."

"The past couple of years with quarantining and COVID caused significant wear and tear on a facility that was already really needing to be upgraded," said Renehan, chair of the county's health and human services committee.

An upgraded facility also could attract more patients with private insurance, boosting revenue, said Janelle Chadwick, the care center administrator.

"It will increase admissions by being competitive with our neighboring facilities," Chadwick said. "It will ensure sustainability of the care center for decades to come. And most importantly, it will provide a high-quality, clean, safe home for the most underserved population in DuPage County and beyond."

A circle drive on the campus has no parking associated with it, so the primary entrance is now under a small blue awning. The lobby is "very congested," Chadwick said, with deliveries, security and patients waiting for transportation to dialysis appointments.

A revamped front entrance will give a "new sense of identity for the care center within the community," said Roxanne Knapp, director of architecture at Knight E/A, the firm leading the design.

"It is no longer confusing on where to go," she said.

In resident rooms, deteriorating finishes will be replaced with materials that meet current health care standards, Knapp said. The project also will create larger communal spaces where residents can gather for dining and other events in a socially distanced environment.

"This is taking care of our most vulnerable residents," Renehan said.

The county could break ground in January, according to a preliminary schedule. The renovations will be done in phases to accommodate residents during construction. The entire project could wrap up in spring 2025.

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