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Nursing home renovations on horizon

County officials on Wednesday listened to a proposal to make upgrades to the skilled nursing care unit of the Heritage campus. They reason the upgrades are necessary to keep up with changing building codes and to better compete in the marketplace. The campus has four levels of care for seniors. (Kalee Holland / Enterprise)

The economics of the geriatric boom are prompting officials at Heritage Living Center to look at a facelift for a geriatric building.

The skilled nursing care residence will itself be a candidate for Social Security soon, having opened 57 years ago.

It is in need of numerous building code updates and all-out modernization.

"We need to address the facility deficiencies," Heritage campus director Kurt Hansen told the Hubbard County board Wednesday.

The campus is a continuum of care facilities, from independent living to skilled nursing care. It has an assisted living center and a memory care mini-campus.

But to compete with other regional facilities, it must upgrade the skilled nursing unit. The facility needs a minimum of $1 million just in building code upgrades, the board learned.

Hansen said a Request For Proposals went out in January and some Moorhead architects were brought on board to assist what will be a long-term process.

"There have been 17 new or updated building codes since the original construction," architect Julie Newman Rokke said. Although the initial 1955 building was demolished, the two remaining wings are vintage 60s.

"Some of the components and systems can't be repaired," she added.

Water lines run under concrete slabs, the roof and generator need replacing, the mechanical system is a dinosaur and the facility has a sewage ejector, not sewage lines running to a sanitary sewer.

"Some of these things are a good 10 years past their life expectancy," she told the board.

The facility is licensed for 68 beds with 55 occupied now, Hansen said.

"We're not able to compete," said commissioner Lyle Robinson. "That's the reason our beds are not full."

The rooms are double occupancy, which goes against the trend of single rooms, and the entire facility is not energy efficient.

With an upgraded skilled nursing facility, "We could have a real niche in the whole area with a state-of-the-art" campus catering to all levels of care, board chair Dick Devine said.

"If we want to stay in the nursing home business we gotta do something," commissioner Cal Johannsen said.

"They could essentially use another Manor sitting right next to it," Devine said of the assisted care facility with a long waiting list.

But Hansen said Heritage wants to first embark on marketing and needs assessments before committing to any projects.

"If we build structures we want to pinpoint demand," he said.

Public funds are available for nursing home projects and upkeep.

"We're in a good position to get some dollars?" Johannsen asked.

"Absolutely," Rokke replied.

Heritage has very little outstanding debt, so the time is right to start some long-term strategic planning, Hansen noted.

The board unanimously voted to nudge the project forward, voting support for feasibility and market studies.

"We're not ready to ask for financing today," Hansen told the board.

In other action, the board:

n Learned that the June 12 timber auction garnered a "very good turnout," said Land Commissioner Mark Lohmeier.

The 27 parcels auctioned off brought $762,546.48. And once again, county officials marveled at the high prices the wood went for. Aspen prices were nearly 10 percent above the winter auction, Lohmeier said.

"Prices are holding very steady," he said, but have dipped significantly since 2006. "Private landowners aren't selling," hoping prices will rise. They won't, commissioners remarked.

To date the Verso paper mill fire in Sartell has not impacted prices, but could eventually, Lohmeier and commissioners predicted.

The board also voted unanimously not to impose liability limits on loggers who bid on county contracts.

"What is the problem we're trying to solve?" Robinson repeatedly asked.

State law mandates governmental subcontractors must carry $1.5 million in liability insurance for tort claims.

"These people aren't working for us, they're working for themselves," Johannsen explained of the difference in status.

Commissioner Kathy Grell questioned whether the insurance requirement should be contracted or simply included in a permit.

In the end, because the requirement would be too onerous and the county has never incurred a lawsuit involving a logger, the board nixed the whole idea.

n Agreed that each department will have a zero-based budget to start 2013 with. Auditor Pam Heeren said this gets managers out of the mind set that "we've always done it that way," or "we got that last year so we must need it this year."

Starting from scratch will involve "a little more thought process," she suggested.

With that the board tentatively raised the mileage reimbursement rate to 46 cents per mile, up from 44 cents. But Robinson suggested a higher rate.

Hubbard County Social Services workers are 95 percent of the motor pool users and their mileage is reimbursed by the federal or state program they're administering. And that's why Robinson suggested the raise.

But other commissioners cited instances where employees have driven their own cars to pocket some extra money in mileage, so they didn't want to raise the reimbursement rates to the point where it was an incentive not to use county vehicles.

The fledgling Land Records department, comprised of the Auditor-Treasurer, Recorder Assessor and Environmental Services/GIS Office, will prepare a joint budget.

n Approved a five-year lease for a new tractor and twin mover for the Public Works Department for Ziegler CAT of Brainerd. The total cost would be $104,913.84 over the lease period.

n Approved purchase of new Gatekeeper Security System computers and software for the jail. The automated system purchased when the jail opened seven years ago is slowing down and becoming obsolete. The costs will be just under $22,000.

n Learned that Social Services income maintenance caseloads and requests for assistance have declined, which they typically do when summer employment offers more opportunities to the unemployed.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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