Staffing nursing home for veterans delaying opening of new facility
by BRIAN NADIG
Since plans were first announced in 2009 for a 200-bed veterans nursing home at 4250 N. Oak Park Ave., the state project has faced years of construction and budget delays, and now the pandemic is slowing efforts to open the facility this year.
“I think there’s been four groundbreakings,” state Senator Robert Martwick (D-10) said of the nursing home, which will be overseen by the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
“They have the keys to the building, (but) the challenge is they have to staff it.”
Veterans’ Affairs department spokesman Evan Fazio said that construction is “substantially complete” but that the COVID-19 pandemic is making it more difficult to obtain equipment and to hire staff for the facility.
“(The department) will work swiftly with the Capital Development Board to prepare the home and hopes to accept its first residents later this year,” he said.
“Caring for Illinois’ military veterans is a top priority for this administration. There have been several construction delays to the Illinois Veterans’ Home at Chicago related to the budget impasse under the previous administration, inclement weather and other factors,” Fazio said. The project was first announced during former governor Pat Quinn’s administration.
Actual construction of the home was underway in 2015 when then-governor Bruce Rauner refused to release the funds needed for the work to continue. At the time there was a budget stalemate between him and the Democratic-controlled legislature, impacting capital projects in the state.
Martwick said that despite pleas from him and other area officials, Rauner would not make an exception for the nursing home.
“It became a political pawn,” Martwick said. “There was always money in the budget to build it, but you need appropriations.”
After the budget impasse ended after two years, a structural design error in the building’s foundation was discovered in 2017. That led to further delays, but the state did recoup its money from those responsible for the mistake, Martwick said.
The setback related to the structure foundation not being built up to federal requirements for earthquake and seismic safety standards. Harley Ellis Devereaux , the architect of record, retained the services of the Matrix Engineering Corporation, a state approved consultant, to provide structural engineering to comply with mandatory contract requirements. The facility was originally designed under Chicago building codes, which are less stringent than federal codes, but certain structures were already partially constructed under the wrong standards and required subsequent partial demolition and repair.
Delays in the $117 million project have been frustrating to veterans, said Dale Tippett, commander of the Illinois Ninth District of the American Legion.
“First commissioned over a decade ago, the home has woefully been delayed to the point of nausea. Fourteen months ago in March of 2019 a ceremony was held to celebrate the final portion of the structure being set in place. Pictures were taken, speeches were made, application guidelines published, but still no home,” Tippett wrote for a district newsletter.
The home is built on land that was part of the Dunning site, which was once the home of the Dunning Institute, known as an insane asylum, in the 19th Century. Its successor institute became known as the Chicago-Read Mental Health Center, which is operated by the state.
Much of the Read Center land was declared surplus by the state has been redeveloped during the past 20 years for residential, commercial, industrial and public uses, including the new Wright College campus.
Construction of the new Illinois Veterans’ Home at 4250 N. Oak Park Ave. is almost completed but the pandemic is slowing efforts to open the long-delayed project this year.
(Photo by Rob Mandik)