Holyoke Soldiers’ Home renovation could cost up to $303M

HOLYOKE — A “reimagined” Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke with 204 beds, mostly private rooms and bathrooms, and other improvements could cost up to $303 million, according to a report released on Veterans Day.

Boston-based Payette Associates was tapped by the state as the design firm of choice for a new-and-improved care facility for veterans after the coronavirus pandemic wreaked deadly havoc on its patient population.

At least 76 lost their lives to COVID-19, while many more veterans were sickened, along with dozens of staff.

The physical shortcomings of the mid-century building on Cherry Street have been cited among several factors contributing to the particularly high rate of fatalities there. Past administrators at the Soldiers’ Home had been begging state officials for years for improvements to the facility and more funding for clinical staff.

Payette’s “rapid planning report,” commissioned by the state, affirms in an overview that the Soldiers’ Home is “functionally obsolete” with overcrowded rooms and shared toilets. Current ratios average up to nine residents per toilet, the report says.

“The devastating impact of COVID-19 underscored the functional obsolescence of the facility and the enhanced need to support critical infection control protocols and requirements,” it reads. “While the commonwealth has completed and continues to deploy short-term mitigation strategies, a long-term permanent solution in necessary.”

The report provides an analysis of two broad options: new construction or a renovation of the current facility plus an addition. The proposed capacity is 180 or 204 beds, as trends show the veteran population declining.

The Soldiers’ Home had room for roughly 235 beds before the outbreak, but the facility was forced to reconfigure as the pandemic has persisted. There are about 80 veterans currently receiving care at the home, state officials reported during a trustees meeting Tuesday night.

According to the report, the cost per bed for a new facility is an estimated $1.42 million.

A “minimal” renovation plus addition involving 204 beds will cost about $1.2 million per bed, while a “complete” 204-bed renovation will cost around $1.5 million per bed, for a total of $303 million.

The state and its vendors are chasing an April 15 deadline to apply for federal funding. By deciding on Payette as the design firm, Gov. Charlie Baker advanced the expedited project onto its next milestones.

The firm will now build on the evaluation it previously completed, develop a full project scope, refine the plan, confirm the budget and timelines and ensure conformity with the regulatory process, according to a statement from Baker’s office.

“By updating and modernizing the facility, we will continue to provide high-quality health care to both aging veterans now and the next generation of veterans who need care,” Baker said.

Payette conducted weeks of meetings and teleconferences with stakeholders — including residents of the home, veterans, family members, staff and a grassroots coalition formed to support better funding for the home.

The firm said there was a resounding plea for an adult day health center, more outdoor recreation space, private rooms and bathrooms, a better canteen area and easily accessible outdoor spaces specific to patients with dementia.

The Payette report includes some cautionary language. It warned that the hilly campus and limited parking place certain constraints on the project if it were to remain where it is. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ grant program for state-run homes is small and only pays for certain things.

“If we rely on the grant program for funding, we must remember this program is small, with an annual grant budget around $100 million and numerous already approved projects awaiting funding. The larger our proposed budget, the higher the risk for delayed funding approvals,” it reads.

Source Article