By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — When the red ribbon is cut, it usually means construction is finished.
And such was the case September 18 when Dunn County officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for The Neighbors of Dunn County, the new senior care facility that will replace the old Dunn County Health Care Center.
The Neighbors cost $23 million to build, is located directly west of the old health care center on the east side of Menomonie and will house 137 residents.
The new senior care facility is built around the concept of neighborhoods and includes three different buildings.
A small number of residents moved into the new facility September 19, and the remainder are expected to move on October 1.
The afternoon of September 18 also included an open house.
About a thousand people came to see The Neighbors, said Steve Rasmussen, county board supervisor from Boyceville and chair of the Dunn County Board.
The journey to build a new senior care facility started in 2006 with a space needs study for the county.
“It’s been a long row to hoe. We’ve been making progress since 1892. The county farm was first built in 1892,” Rasmussen told the crowd that had assembled for the ribbon cutting ceremony.
Ground breaking for the new facility occurred in May of 2012.
“Since then, Tony (Manzella, nursing home administrator) and the staff have kicked it into overdrive (to train and prepare) in addition to their everyday workload,” Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen acknowledged Stan Anderson of Boyceville, a former county board supervisor and former chair of the health care center committee.
“I can remember Stan coming before (the county board) and saying ‘we’ve got to do something.’ And now a number of years later, Supervisor Elton Christopherson, current chair of the committee, has carried it forward,” Rasmussen said.
Stan Anderson died in September of 2011 at the age of 79.
“This facility is a demonstration of our county — of our community’s belief — that we are all in this together, and in our belief that we have an obligation to take care of our own,” Rasmussen said.
From the beginning, Dunn County officials had planned that the new senior care facility would be a sustainable operation that would not require taxpayer money to build or to operate.
The goal was “to provide resident-centered service in a home-like atmosphere, and to do so in a manner than was financially sustainable. This project does not require a (tax) levy for construction or a levy for operations. It is a sustainable enterprise,” Rasmussen said.
The facility was built using as many local companies as possible, such as The Pember Company of Menomonie; Andy’s Custom Concrete of Colfax; JF Ahern of Menomonie. Service Master of Boyceville, he said.
“Millions of dollars were spent in our own community,” Rasmussen said.
Hoffman LLC designed the building, and the Samuels Group acted as construction manager for The Neighbors.
“I will not suggest that the project has been easy. Democracy in our country can be noisy and messy and complicated. And then we try to do big things and make big changes, and it stirs passions and controversies …we can do what will keep our numbers high for the next election, or we can do what is best for the next generation,” Rasmussen said.
“What keeps me going is that despite obstacles and uncertainty, the spirit of determination and optimism, of fundamental decency, has always been at the core of this county’s people,” he said.
Now that The Neighbors has been completed, remodeling of the old health care center to use as a health and human services building will soon begin, said Gene Smith, county manager.
Remodeling the old Dunn County Health Care Center is expected to cost about $12 million.
“In relatively short order, the Dunn County Health Care Center will be no more, and The Neighbors of Dunn County will be your county government’s resource for those in need of skilled nursing and rehabilitative services,” Smith said.
“Without the voters and taxpayers of this county, and their approval of an excess levy referendum in 2009, I believe the Dunn County Health Care Center would have closed, and this facility would be a waiting dream. The intent of the levy was to give the county the support and the time to develop and implement a responsible, fiscally appropriate plan (to replace the old health care center),” he said.
In 2009, voters in Dunn County approved exceeding the revenue limit by $500,000 each year for five years.
“The Dunn County Health Care Center — and now The Neighbors — has a long history of meeting the needs of both the citizens of Dunn County as well as others … it is our intent that The Neighbors will provide a homelike atmosphere … our employees will be the foundation for a homelike environment,” Smith said.
“This is a culmination of everything we have worked for. I am so proud of our employees and of Dunn County,” said Jill Noreen, county board supervisor from Menomonie and chair of the committee on administration.
“We think of our county and our county government that they take care of roads, they plow snow, they take care of zoning, they collect our taxes. But a good county takes care of the people. A good county knows that we are only as strong as we take care of those who are weak and elderly,” she said.
Dunn County officials had initially hoped to build a senior care facility using the trademarked Green House design.
As it turned out, the Green House design would not have been feasible, but The Neighbors of Dunn County is built around a similar concept of neighborhoods to create a homelike atmosphere.