By Renee Beasley Jones, Messenger-Inquirer
Wendell Foster is starting a multiphase building project that will expand the nonprofit’s outpatient therapy services, improve work flow for many employees and transform much of its campus.
The three-phase project, which could stretch into 2022, calls for the construction of three new buildings. CEO Eric Scharf said preliminary cost estimates for all three phases may run about $6 million, but there are still many unknowns.
Phase I is a new maintenance building at Sixth and Center streets, which Scharf hopes will be completed in December. The board approved spending $270,000 on the 3,500-square-foot facility.
The empty lot is currently staked and ready for dirt work to begin next week.
Right now, an aging Wendell Foster chapel on Triplett Street serves as the campus maintenance building, but the decades-old chapel is in disrepair and is too small to meet current needs.
The chapel is a sensitive issue for some Owensboro and Wendell Foster residents, said Chad Underhill, vice president of facilities and environmental services. According to the chapel’s oral history, community members pitched in and built it in just a few days’ time. Scharf estimates it may be from the 1950s.
Also, some Wendell Foster residential clients have fond memories of going to church there as children. Underhill wants to honor the chapel’s important campus and community history, so he plans to turn the steeple into some type of campus monument. Also, he plans to give mementos from the building to Wendell Foster residents who would like a keepsake from their one-time chapel.
Once the new maintenance facility is built, the chapel will be razed. Removing the chapel frees valuable real estate that is needed for Phase II.
Wendell Foster plans to build a 12,600-square-foot comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation facility. The current one is not large enough to address the needs of the community, Scharf said.
This month, more than 60 disabled clients sit on a waiting list for speech, occupational and physical therapy. That number changes monthly.
But there’s another issue: Wendell Foster doesn’t offer therapy to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities only. It’s a little-known fact, but the campus provides therapy to any resident — even those without disabilities. Demand from that segment is growing, too, Scharf said.
“There’s only so much we can do” with the current facilities, he said.
Wendell Foster officials considered hiring more therapists and expanding the hours and days of service, but a survey of clients indicated they would not favor sessions on nights and weekends. Building a new facility is the best way to accommodate the need, Scharf said.
The new facility will require more therapists, so current plans include hiring up to three new therapists for each discipline — speech, occupational and physical therapy. Recruitment is underway in anticipation of the new building. Scharf expects there may be an overlap of therapists in the current building until the new one opens.
Among other amenities, the proposed rehabilitation facility includes a spacious foyer, eight bathrooms, two gyms, therapy rooms and a sound-proof room in the lobby area for parents to catch up on work or spend time alone while waiting for a child in therapy.
If all goes as planned, the state-of-the-art facility will be equipped with features, such as a climbing wall and specialized suspended “walking track” that assists physically disabled people, allowing them to walk without fear of falling.
“These track systems are expensive,” Scharf said. “But it’s the future of people living more independently.”
Wendell Foster’s current rehabilitation center can’t be retrofitted with these new technologies, he said.
Underhill said he hopes to bid out Phase II — the proposed rehabilitation facility — in February and start construction in the spring. He expects construction to take about nine months. Currently, there is no cost estimate on Phase II.
The new rehab facility will be built behind the current one, and the two will be joined with a heated and cooled walkway. The new building will be a prominent feature at Triplett and Ninth streets.
“A lot of work and preparation has gone into this,” Underhill said.
Phase III — a new dietary, inventory and laundry building on Triplett Street — may not be built until 2022.
Now, employees push heavy carts of food and laundry a long distance across campus sidewalks to reach residential cottages. It’s a time-consuming process on a good-weather day, but it becomes more time-consuming and dangerous when employees make the trip on ice- and snow-covered sidewalks, Scharf said.
Wendell Foster owns two older homes near its parking lot, which butts up to the campus’ residential cottages. The homes will be torn down to make way for an 8,000-square-foot building that will improve working conditions and productivity.
Of course, Wendell Foster is a nonprofit. “Even the $270,000 (for the maintenance building) is hard to come by,” Scharf said.
To pay for the three-phase construction project, he said Wendell Foster will rely on loans, conduct a capital campaign, appeal to sponsors and write grants.
Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, [email protected]