Vilas Home expands with $10 million project

FERNANDO ALBA/Staff Photo Emily and Eli Schwartzberg, co-owners of the Samuel F. Vilas Home, with their children and others in front of the home in Plattsburgh Wednesday for a groundbreaking ceremony celebrating a $10 million expansion that is expected to be finished by 2023. 

PLATTSBURGH — Co-owner Eli Schwartzberg calls the Samuel F. Vilas Home a diamond of the Plattsburgh community. He hopes it’ll shine brighter when a $10 million expansion project wraps up in 2023.

The project will add about 70,000 square feet and 67 rooms to the adult home, which will become an assisted living facility once the expansion is finished.

Schwartzberg bought the Vilas Home, a 19th century two-story brick building on the intersection of Cornelia and Beekman Streets, along with his wife, Emily, in 2019. They bought it with an eye toward eventual additions, Schwartzberg said Wednesday during a groundbreaking ceremony at the Vilas Home.

“We wanted to make sure the Vilas Home makes it into the next 130 years, that it’s competitive and that we have a facility that provides state-of-the-art services and care to our area seniors so that they have a dignified environment and are well taken care of by a family run business,” Schwartzberg said.

The expansion, which will be conducted in two phases, will bring a new three-story building that will be built behind the existing Vilas Home, an additional third story to the current home, an increase from 42 rooms to up to 109, two memory care wings for residents with low and high level Alzheimer’s and various new amenities.

Renovations will also be made to the current Vilas Home. Those renovations will be conducted along with The National Register of Historic Places and the National Park Service to ensure they are done in a “historically sensitive” way, Schwartzberg said.

Phase one of the expansion, which would involve constructing the new building, is expected to be completed next fall. At that point, Schwartzberg said, residents would be moved into the new building while phase two kicks off.

Phase two would bring the renovations and amenities to the existing Vilas Home, which would include accessibility improvements, new rooms with kitchenettes and private baths, emergency pull cords, different common spaces, an interior courtyard between both buildings, a physical therapy area with an aqua therapy swimming pool, an ice cream parlor, a spa, a café and more.

Phase two is expected to be completed in 2023.

The expansion will also allow the Vilas Home to provide an enhanced assisted living, Schwartzberg said. It would allow the home to provide injectable medications, feeding assistance and more to its residents.

“So people can age in place if they need certain things, but they’re not medically complex where they have to be in a nursing home,” Schwartzberg said.

The $10 million project is partially funded with a $750,000 community development block grant. The grant required a local municipality to sponsor the application. The City of Plattsburgh would end up being that sponsor.

But when the grant was presented to the city’s Common Council in August 2020, attorney and former NY-21 Congressman Bill Owens, who spoke on behalf of Meadowbrook Health care, argued and claimed that there wasn’t a big enough need for beds in the region and that a dwindling number of staff would be split between competing local care facilities.

“This application does not make sense for the community because there is the inability to secure the bodies to work in the facility,” Owens said at the time.

But Schwartzberg said the Vilas Home provides different services than nursing homes, so it can operate with staff who don’t have the experience required from other facilities. In that sense, Schwartzberg said, competition among local homes does not exist.

Currently, the Vilas Home has 32 employees with no available openings, Schwartzberg said. Although for the expansion, the home will require about 80 to 90 employees to run the facility.

“We’re family-run. A lot of nursing homes and assisted living [facilities] are just big corporations,” Schwartzberg said. “I think that people want to know that they’re loved one is looked after by people who are directly involved and by a local family.”

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