Federal, state and local officials joined with top brass from the Nathaniel Witherell nursing home in Greenwich Thursday afternoon to participate in a groundbreaking ceremony for the planned $24 million renovation of the town-owned facility.
"Project Renew," which has been more than ten years in the making, will increase the number of single, private bedroom units in the facility from 26 to 62, and the number of double bedroom units from 136 to 142, through the elimination of 40 less-popular four-bedroom units and reconfiguration of interior space.
The project also includes installation of a sprinkler system in the nursing home's 80-plus-year-old administration building, as well as new boilers for heat and hot water; new backup power generators; new bathrooms and nursing stations; and expansion of the existing rehabilitation space. The building’s square footage and existing footprint will remain about the same.
"There has been a ton of work to make this groundbreaking a reality," said Congressman Jim Himes, a resident of Cos Cob, who was one of numerous officials to attend the ceremony. "I can remember, I think it was ten years ago, when this was first conceived... "
The project has stirred a lot of debate since the initial, $45 million plan to build an entirely new facility was proposed in 2002. That plan was withdrawn in 2006 after support for it eroded due to its high cost. A scaled back plan calling for an all-new, $38 million facility also failed to pass in 2010.
"Project Renew," as it is being called, became a reality in December 2011 when the Representative Town Meeting approved $20.5 million in bonding for renovations.
"What's really remarkable about this is that, in this time of challenging politics, to say the least, Republicans and Democrats, working with the Board [of Selectmen] and working with the BET [Board of Estimate and Taxation], as well as working with a variety of different first selectmen, came together in civil and constructive fashion to preserve something we all know to be one of the crown jewels of the Town of Greenwich," Himes said.
First Selectman Peter Tesei Tesei called the groundbreaking "a momentous occasion for our town in undertaking a project that has been long in the making." He gave a special thanks to David Ormsby, chairman of the Nathaniel Witherell board of directors, "who has given this project his all — the reason we are here today is because of his commitment and persistence."
"If there is any institution that epitomizes the heart of our town, it is the Witherell," Tesei said, adding that the nursing home is a place "that brings people together, because it provides essential care to those who are most vulnerable."
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, who was instrumental helping the nursing home obtain its certificate of need for the project from the state Department of Social Services, as well as helping to increase the Medicaid reimbursement rates for construction, said he has a "special appreciation for the hard work, and the good work, that goes on in facilities like this in the state of Connecticut."
"People don't choose to get old, they happen to grow into it," Gov. Malloy said. "We need to take care of them — and the best way to do that is with the best equipment and the best professional help they can receive — and I know that this facility has done that routinely year after year."
"But, like people facilities to get old and need some help and some care," Malloy added. "The undertaking of this community, over a ten year period, to bring this to fruition is a testament to the people of Greenwich, who care so deeply about their obligations. I'm proud to be a part of the team that got this project done."
Other elected officials who attended included state Sen. L. Scott Frantz (R-36th); state Rep. Livvy Floren (R-149th); state Rep. Stephen Walko (R-150th); and state Rep. Alfred Camillo (R-151st). Also in attendance was former First Selectman Jim Lash, former state Rep. Lile Gibbons and former state Rep. Claudia "Dolly" Powers.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal was unable to attend, having just returned from a trip to Egypt, however Allen Brown, the nursing home's executive director, read a statement from the Senator on his behalf.