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Witherell Project Renew OK'd by Board of Selectmen

Decision allows proposed update of town-owned nursing home facilities to move forward.

With a New England backdrop of Federalist chairs and wall sconces, the Greenwich Board of Selectmen unanimously approved the proposed “Project Renew” for the town-owned Nathaniel Witherell nursing home.

It was a major step forward for the project that has been on the drawing boards for the past decade. With the endorsement of the selectmen, the $22.5 million project to update the Parsonage Road facility now will be forwarded to the Planning and Zoning Commission for approval.

In an unusual move, the selectmen decided to hold their bi-weekly meeting at The Nathaniel Witherell so that staff and residents could attend. First Selectman Peter Tesei described the meeting backdrop – the Witherell’s white-wainscotted chapel - as “very New England” and reflected the New England form of government.

The Witherell was founded was founded nearly a century ago in 1903 as a facility for patients with contagious diseases. Over the years it has been transformed into a 202-bed facility that offers both short- and long- term care for the town’s elderly.

A plan to completely rebuild the facility with 190 beds was given state approval in the form of a certificate of need in 2004. Back then the project was estimated to cost more than $45 million. Concerns over costs caused the project to languish until last year.

The Witherell’s board garnered the support of local and state officials and earned a new certificate of need to expand short-term rehabilitative services earlier this year.

Funding of the project is based upon the state increasing its reimbursement rate for short-term, rehabilitation patients and the town bonding it over a 20-year period. The plan includes upgrades and renovations of bathrooms, elevators, the HVAC and electrical systems, emergency generators,  installation of sprinkler and fire detection systems, the conversion of four-bed residents rooms into short-term rehab rooms, expansion of rehabilitation facilities, and the general painting and remodeling of several common areas of the facility at 70 Parsonage Rd.

According to Witherell officials demand for short-term rehab services continues to increase and can be converted into a for-profit operation which will compliment the long-term services already offered.

Before the unanimous vote, Tesei said, “This has clearly been vetted and everyone understands the need. I do think the overall benefit of the project adds value to the town and speaks to our character as a community with a skilled-nursing facility.”  

According to David Ormsby, chairman of the Witherell’s board, the project will be presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission as soon as possible and to the Board of Estimate and Taxation at its September meeting. He also hopes the plan will be submitted simultaneously to the Representative Town Meeting which he anticipates will review it at both its September and October meetings.

Ormsby said that if all town approvals are granted, construction could begin in September 2012 with a targeted January 2014 completion date. “The timeline is the best-case scenario,” Ormsby said following the selectmen’s vote.  

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