Rehab renovation-plus

SARANAC LAKE – St. Joseph’s Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers is abuzz with construction activity and will be for months to come.

Crews are working on two major state-funded projects, a three-phase, $10 million renovation of the main St. Joseph’s building that won’t be complete until 2015, and a new, $2.8 million community residence for veterans suffering from both substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder, which is expected to be complete this fall.

“We’re on schedule, if not slightly ahead,” St. Joseph’s CEO Bob Ross said Friday during an Enterprise tour of the construction sites. “The good weather has helped. The work that has gone forward has been a really great collaboration from St. Joe’s point of view, with Bette and Cring as the construction company. We couldn’t be happier.”

A crew of as many as 15 workers from Bette and Cring has been on site since early January, when renovations to the main building off of Glenwood Drive began. Ross said there are three phases to the project, which will be spread out over two-and-a-half years. The first phase involves a complete gutting and restoration of the original manor house built on the property in 1928.

“That includes things like wiring and plumbing, which are still the original infrastructure, and the heating system – some of those are probably eligible for antique museums,” Ross said. “The boilers in particular look like something that came out of the Titantic. There was a need to upgrade our infrastructure for reliability and safety purposes.”

An elevator and a new stairwell will also be added to that portion of the building. The entire structure will get a new roof.

The second phase of the project involves renovations to the 1961 wing that was constructed as a dormitory by the Franciscan friars when the property operated as a seminary.

“It has some elements that are not as old as the house but still old enough that they needed some of the same infrastructure improvements,” Ross said. “The third phase is the 1991 building, which was built as a space for female residents and counseling staff. It, not surprisingly, is going to receive the smallest amount of upgrading because it’s in better shape.

“Collectively, we wanted to improve the flow of the program. When we inherited the ’28 and ’61 buildings, they were never designed for this purpose. You had administrative services mixed in with client services out of geographic necessity. We want to better segregate and improve the flow of the spaces, and upgrade the quality of services we provide.”

Crews from Bette and Cring started work in early March on a second project, the 25-bed, 10,000-square-foot veterans residence, located off of Kiwassa Road on a 3-acre parcel downhill from the main St. Joseph’s campus. Ross said he’s hopeful the first residents will move in by early fall.

“One of the things we’re trying to do now, in preparation with the building being finished, is to begin to make contact with veterans groups, with the New York (Army National) Guard, with other treatment facilities around the state. We’d like to have a waiting list before we open, and we’ve been working hard to make that happen.

“We’re going to do a national search for staff,” Ross added. “We really want to draw some of the talent that’s leaving military service. We hope to be able to attract people who have experience working with addiction and PTSD, and who have administrative skills in the health care area.”

The facility will have a staff of 15, ranging from directors and counselors to kitchen and building maintenance staff.

“In addition to looking forward to being able to serve veterans and their families well, we think its a really important economic development opportunity for the village and the Adirondacks to be bringing in 15 new jobs in the health care area,” Ross said.

When the veterans’ residence was first proposed last year, St. Joseph’s asked the village to rezone the full 3-acre parcel, which had been zoned for residential use only, to match the zoning of the center’s main 27-acre property. But residents who live near the parcel said the zoning change, and the uses and activities associated with the project, would damage the character and property values of their neighborhood. St. Joseph’s ultimately revised the proposal to rezone half of the property, leaving the other half untouched.

“There was some controversy,” Ross said. “We wanted to be responsive on the concerns on the part of the neighbors, and I think we were able to hear their concerns and provide a meaningful set of responses, including most importantly a buffer zone immediately attached to the site which gives them a physical and visual barrier of protection that will remain forever green.”

With all the construction work, Ross said he and his staff have had to be creative to minimize disruptions to the quality and quantity of their services.

“There was quite a sophisticated schedule we worked out with the architect and with the construction company to make sure we could move sequentially through the major stages of the renovation,” he said. “During each phase, we move staff and residents out of that area. People have worked hard to not have what’s been going on for the last three months interfere with the quality or the amount of patient care.”

Ross said St. Joe’s is grateful to the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services and Gov. Andrew Cuomo for funding both projects, especially given the difficult budget constraints the state has faced in recent years.

Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or