By Bette McFarren
The day was bright and sunny at the site of Bluestem Village as ground was broken on Thursday with a full crowd of supporters. The project has taken almost four years from its inception, so far. Lynn Horner was mayor of La Junta when the Arkansas Valley Medical Center announced it had no interest in continuing to provide skilled nursing care for elders. Johnnie DeLeon traced the history of the project for the enthusiastic group, which gathered on the prairie site on South San Juan Ave. When La Junta received the news that the Arkansas Valley Regional
Medical Center had no interest in continuing to care for the elderly, Lynn Horner was mayor. A group of citizens led by Pam Denahy, tourism director for the city, got together and took the first step, getting the issue on the ballot, said DeLeon.
“Without that effort, none of this would have been possible,” said DeLeon.
They did get the nursing home on the ballot, together with a one percent sales tax to support it and a dream team to manage the project.
“Passing a sales tax is no small accomplishment,” said DeLeon, “but they did it.”
The dream team is still on duty today, having been reinstated each time they came up for election, and willing to see the project through to the finish. The board consists of Johnnie DeLeon, who has shown his managerial ability by creating Inspiration Field, Janet Hill of Colorado Bank & Trust as financial member, Diane Fowler, RN, representing nursing expertise, Lynn Horner, the former mayor and public relations man, and Dr. Paul Yoder, physician. To help them design the facility, they added consultants Veronica Aguilar and Julia Hoeppner, who have experience working in such a facility.
“Our best hire, and our only one so far, was Adela Licano,” said DeLeon. “She has worked tirelessly through all the ups and downs of getting this project going.”
About this time, Darlene and Lloyd LaBrier had decided to retire from ranching and sell their property. Lloyd was insistent the nursing center should be the buyer, although he had higher offers from others. Although they were looking for only 10 acres, the board took the opportunity offered and bought the whole 50 acres for $50,000. There is room for expansion. That was the board’s first major purchase. Later they were able to purchase the furnishings from a local firm at pre-COVID prices.
Matt Schindler of WDM Architects was chosen as the architect. DeLeon had previous experience with him for the design and building of Inspiration Field, the La Junta center for the developmentally disabled. The office space at the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife on San Juan Ave. became available and they had a headquarters.
The team visited residential treatment facilities all over Colorado, neighboring states, and Fowler visited a facility back East when she went to see one of her children. They were most impressed with the GreenHouse model, which stresses a homelike atmosphere and private room and bath for each individual. That was a good thing, because at the present time the State of Colorado will license only facilities that follow that model. The environmental survey had to be done twice. DeLeon assured us that a tribal representative personally walked the site and did not find artifacts.
They suffered a major drawback when the first general contractor engaged could not meet the maximum price requirement of the board. Schindler, the architect, suggested The Law Company, with whom he had worked on similar projects. The accompanying banking arrangements had also dropped out. So the board had to go to bid again, and also had to look to the United States Department of Agriculture to be the backing for the loan. The finishers are The Law Company for construction and Western Alliance Bank for the construction loan. The board has been working with the USDA since last July.
The USDA gave its final approval last week to reserve $15.6 million for the project. “There is not only the construction, but ongoing costs,” said DeLeon. One of the factors which make the project viable is the sales tax based financing. Revenues are up five percent, even with COVID. Josh Lenz of Western Alliance commends the obvious local support, the sales tax and the quick project, estimated at 15-16 months, to be completed Dec. 7, 2022.
One of the costs is management. The board decided on a skilled management company, familiar with nursing facilities. Vivage was the company that won the bid, and has so far been a great deal of help.
“John (Brammeier) and Heather (Terhark) cranked out the numbers,” said DeLeon. He also thanked Janet Hill for super-fast number crunching on next year’s budget. “I like to do it,” said Hill from the side.
All of the people on the platform spoke briefly. Schindler thanked the public for support and the give and take of economizing where needed. Dennis Kerschen spoke for The Law Company, pointing out construction is now underway. Josh Lenz of the Western Alliance Bank said the backing of the community is evident from the large group at the groundbreaking and the financial support of the sales tax.
Johnnie DeLeon reminded everyone this is just the beginning, with lots of work starting to recruit personnel and advertise the availability of the Village, along with getting the construction exactly right.
The website is up and will follow the project progress, said Administrative Assistant Adela Licano. The complete village for opening will be two double houses, sharing laundry and heating facilities, an administration building with space for large gatherings as well as the offices, and a gazebo financed by the Papers, owners of Lewis Bolt and Nut. The facility will contain 54,567 square feet at a cost per square foot of $238.22. Each resident has a private room of 312 square feet, a bath, and a lift, which continues to the bath and out into the corridor. Each house has its own kitchen, makes its own meals and snacks, and has a coffee bar, which does not close. There is also a comfortable lounge and patio with each house and a central area and surrounding walks for the whole facility. Utilities are being arranged with the city. Electricical transformers are already installed.
Lynn Horner stretched out his arms at the end of the ceremony and prayed that God will bless this Blue Stem Village, all who will live and work here.
City and county officials could be seen in the audience at the groundbreaking, along with those who may in the future want to live in the facility and their families. La Junta mayor Jeffri Pruyn remembered almost six years ago when city wasn’t sure what it would do if the nursing home closed. “I and all the city council are so excited to get a top notch facility like this nursing home in La Junta.”
Mayoral candidate Jim Goodwin was in the audience, also, sitting with former Bent’s Old Fort manager Alejandra Aldred-Adams. City council members Ed Vela and Elaine McIntyre were present, as were County commissioner Rob Oquist and wife Colleen, assistant city manager Bill Jackson and many others. The 150 seats were filled, and some were standing.
A cake was served along with plentiful water bottles. Arkansas Valley Hospice and Vivage supplied the refreshments. And there were raffle tickets for such prized items as the floral arrangements supplied by Sangre de Cristo Hospice.