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BLOOMINGTON — Joan Widmer got a sneak peak of her new neighborhood on Tuesday and was "amazed."

"Oh my goodness gracious," she said as she directed her power scooter into one of the new neighborhood dining areas of Martin Health Center. "This is a beautiful area."

Widmer, 90, is among 78 residents of Martin Health Center, which is the skilled care building of Westminster Village, 2025 E. Lincoln St., Bloomington. On Tuesday, she got a peek into the just completed, larger skilled care (nursing home) building.

Completion of the replacement Martin Health Center building is the latest phase of Westminster's multiphase, multiyear, $33 million expansion and renovation project.

The project at the longtime Bloomington continuing care retirement community is among McLean County's larger building projects and is a part of the growth in senior living facilities in Bloomington-Normal.

The existing, 30,000-square-foot Martin Health Center has 78 residents — 76 in 38 semi-private rooms and two in private rooms.

The new, 42,000-square-foot, two-story building has 48 private rooms — 24 on each floor, Westminster CEO Barb Nathan said during a tour of the building on Tuesday.

After the existing Martin Health Center building is renovated, the skilled care facility will have room for 96 residents — 80 in private rooms and 16 in eight semi-private rooms, she said.

"The trend has been to private rooms," Nathan said.

The new building has four "neighborhoods," each with a combined dining area, kitchen and living room, in addition to a nurses' station and laundry facility.

"Now we have one giant dining room with a busy kitchen adjacent to it and it can get extremely loud," Nathan said.

"We are moving to a neighborhood concept to help each resident as well as their families and staff," she said. "We want to build bonds between the residents and staff by allowing the staff to work with a smaller population."

Westminster, which has 220 full- and part-time employees, already has accounted for the shift to "neighborhoods" by adding 12 employees to Martin, Nathan said.

The new Martin building is constructed as a rectangle, with a wheelchair-accessible courtyard in the middle for residents to enjoy the outdoors.

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"Getting outside is better for all of us," Nathan said. "And this area is secure."

Widmer said "You don't feel 'nursing home' when you walk in here. It has a homey environment."

The next step is for the building to be inspected and approved by Illinois Department of Public Health.

"We hope to move residents in here in October," Nathan said. "It feels wonderful to know we are close to moving residents into this beautiful building."

Renovation of the existing Martin building — to make it similar to the new building — will begin this fall and take about a year, Nathan said.

The Martin construction and renovation accounts for $21 million of the $33 million building project.

Other phases of the project include a new Westminster Village entrance drive and entrance building off Mercer Avenue; new walkways connecting common areas to independent living apartments; an expanded multipurpose room, dining room, kitchen and activity space; and a new library, meeting room, store, club room and wellness center.

Common area renovations will be done by Christmas, Nathan said.

A future project will be a new assisted living building, with 60 assisted living apartments and 12 memory support apartments, to be built at the site of the former entrance off Lincoln Street.

"Our hope is to get that project bid and financed before the end of the year," with construction beginning next spring and wrapping up 15 months later, Nathan said.

In addition, Westminster is considering building 10 to 12 independent living units on the south side of its property, Nathan said.

"I've been very happy here," said Widmer, a Gridley native who has lived at Westminster for seven years, including 3½ at Martin Health Center.

Westminster has 350 residents and 350 people on its waiting list.

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Contact Paul Swiech at (309) 820-3275. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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