New rehab center nearly complete on former Danvers State Hospital land

Work is nearing completion on a new $14 million long-term care and rehabilitation center on the former Danvers State Hospital campus.

Officials from SunBridge Healthcare, which will operate the 120-bed Hathorne Hill Rehabilitation and Care Center,
 said they expect to open the facility by December or January.

Situated on the lowland section of the property off Route 62, the 72,000-square-foot center on Kirkbride Drive will provide 40 beds for patients requiring long-term care and 80 for those needing shorter-term rehabilitation.

Town officials are welcoming the project on the 9-acre site, which is the last remaining section of the former hospital campus that was earmarked for redevelopment.

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“I think it’s exciting. It’s a great culmination of the use of the state hospital property,’’ said William Clark, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.

The new facility, which will be located near the bottom of Hathorne Hill across from the Beverly Hospital at Danvers, will replace SunBridge’s 100-bed Cedar Glen Care and Rehabilitation Center
on Summer Street. When the project is completed, Cedar Glen will close and its patients will have the opportunity to be transferred to the new center.

SunBridge and its affiliates operate 199 long-term care and rehabilitation centers nationally, 18 in Massachusetts. In Danvers, in addition to Cedar Glen, the company operates the 101-bed Twin Oaks Care and Rehabilitation Center, on Locust Street.

The Hathorne Hill center is being constructed for SunBridge by College Street Partners, a Beverly-based health care development firm that owns the land. SunBridge will operate the facility under a long-term lease of the property.

Originally built as a hotel in 1966, the 23,244-square-foot Cedar Glen facility is “outdated and antiquated in terms of its physical plant,’’ said Mark LaRoche, regional vice president for SunBridge.

He said the new facility also will provide the layout needed for new, more personalized models of patient care. Instead of long corridors, there will be patient “neighborhoods’’ featuring such homelike amenities as fireplaces and courtyards. Rather than a central dining room, there will be a series of smaller dining rooms.

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“To be able to adopt all this cultural change into this new physical plant is exciting,’’ said Christine Baldini, who was director of Cedar Glen and will assume that role at Hathorne Hill, where she is project manager. “It’s truly a home. This facility doesn’t look like a hospital; it doesn’t look like a nursing home. It’s beautiful.’’

LaRoche said although a third of its beds will be devoted to patients needing long-term care — housed on the second floor — the focus of the facility will be on shorter-term rehabilitation for patients recovering from illness or injuries.

Forty of the short-term beds will be for patients undergoing intensive rehabilitation. They will be housed on the first floor, close to the gym and other facilities that SunBridge plans to outfit with state-of-the-art equipment. The other 40 beds, on the second floor, will be for rehabilitation patients that require a greater level of care.

LaRoche said SunBridge wanted to rebuild in Danvers in part to avoid uprooting Cedar Glen’s long-term patients. The Hathorne Hill site fit the bill.

“There is accessibility right off the highway and the setting is just beautiful. There are big rows of cornfields in the background. . . . It just really is the perfect site for us,’’ he said.

LaRoche said he is hopeful that there could be future collaborations between the Hathorne Hill center and the Beverly Hospital at Danvers, a medical and day surgery center that opened in 2007.

He also said that Twin Oaks is not in need of replacement, but its focus will shift to specializing in care for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

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The state in 1991 shuttered the then-113-year-old Danvers State Hospital, and in 2005, Danvers adopted zoning rules governing redevelopment of part of the overall 500-acre site of the former mental institution.

AvalonBay Communities, the master developer, in 2005 purchased from the state the approximately 51-acre hilltop portion of the site, along with about 17.2 lowland acres.

In 2008, AvalonBay completed a 433-unit apartment complex on the hilltop land, and the units have been nearly fully occupied since, according to Scott Dale, the company’s Boston regional senior vice president.

In partnership with OHC Development, AvalonBay planned to develop 74 condominium units for those 55-and-over next to the apartment complex. To date, 22 of the units have been sold and built, with the remainder of that project on hold, Dale said. “We are evaluating market conditions to determine the most opportune time for proceeding forward,’’ he said.

Dale said AvalonBay is pleased with the SunBridge project, which will complete the redevelopment of the lowlands parcel.

“We think it’s a tremendous complement to the other uses on the site,’’ he said.

Original plans had called for offices and recreational uses being developed on the lowlands parcel, but that was scrapped because of limited demand for the offices. In place of building recreational facilities on the site, AvalonBay donated money the town to help fund the cost of rebuilding athletic fields at the Thorpe School, according to Clark.

“I think it’s a good use of the property. It isn’t what we expected, but it will be an excellent facility,’’ Clark said of the SunBridge project, adding that it will also generate tax revenue for the town.

Marlene Locke, the town’s chief assessor, said that the Hathorne Hill center, when completed, will generate an estimated $155,000 per year in property taxes, compared with the $32,000 it generated as an undeveloped parcel last year.

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