By Brian Crandall
The Ithaca Voice
In filings with the Town of Ithaca and the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency, West Hill’s Cayuga Ridge has announced plans to renovate its West Hill facility and add dozens of jobs.
The Cayuga Ridge healthcare facility, located at 1229 Trumansburg Road (Route 96) in Ithaca, is a 160-bed skilled nursing and rehabilitation center, serving both clients needing short-term physical, occupational or speech rehabilitation, as well as long-term skilled care for clients suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.
Founded as the 260-bed Lakeside Nursing Home in the early 1970s, the owners fell on hard times by the late 1990s and declared bankruptcy in 2003, reducing the number of beds and laying off a portion of the staff. The facility attempted to reinvent itself in the 2000s with plans for assisted living and adult day care, but the plans did not pan out, and the facility was sold in 2009.
In fall 2015, LNH Holding LLC, a subsidiary of Sympaticare of New York City, purchased the facility at the request of the state. The previous operators were failing to meet state requirements, and the state sought an operator who could bring the facility up to standard.
As it’s currently set up, Cayuga Ridge leases the facility from Sympaticare on a 25-year lease; both LNH Holding and Cayuga Ridge are owned by Sympaticare, they’re just separate units. Since the facility does not meet state facility standards, it is operating on a temporary permit. The case is that it must either be upgraded to meet state regulations, or shut down.
While new parking lots and sidewalks are planned, and the courtyards, windows, doors and shingles will be replaced, the bulk of the work is an interior renovation. The New York State Department of Health has signed off on plans to reconfigure and renovate the nearly 50-year old building to current skilled care facility guidelines.
This involves more accessible bathrooms and patient rooms, as well as upgraded elevators. Dining and activity space will be decentralized to provide a more personalized experience, and common areas and amenities will be expanded. Laundry, staff support spaces and new physical therapy suite will be added, and currently unused wings in the building will be brought back into use. All utility systems (electrical, plumbing, HVAC), near the end of their working lives, will be updated.
In short, the goal is to redesign the building to not just comply with state rules, but create a more home-like space and offer a greater array of patient services, which can be done by filling out the vacant floor space instead of building new.
One change that comes from this, however, is a reduction in the number of beds, as Cayuga Ridge is updated to meet new rules and regulations in patient care, as well as meet the NYSDOH accessibility standards. The facility will shrink from 160 beds, to 140, plus two respite beds (planned or emergency temporary care provided to caregivers of developmentally disabled or delayed individuals, so that the caregivers may have a short break). The plan is to keep the facility operational while renovations are underway.
To help make the project work financially, the owners are seeking a sales tax exemption from the county IDA. Unlike the property tax abatement that focus on property tax assessment, a sales tax exemption is a waiver from needing to pay taxes on construction materials and new furnishings, and typically much lower in value than a property tax abatement. The savings, if granted, would be $738,720 off the $21 million renovation.
“An exemption of state and local sales tax is being requested for the purpose of assisting us in closing the gap between projected renovation hard and soft costs, and our operating budget,” wrote Sympaticare CEO Shalom Braunstein in the application to the IDA. “The facility has been unattended to for decades and the costs to renovate are significantly higher because of the long-term decline.”
As part of the renovation and expansion of medical and wellness facilities, the owners plan to add 49 positions to the current staff count of 141. Of the 49 positions, most are nurses (eight RNs, 14 LPNs) or nurse’s aides (16 CNAs), with ten service positions and a new administrative position. CNAs make $13.62/hour, and service staff $11.34/hour; LPN wages average $18.97/hour, and RNs $25.38/hour. With the $26.67/hour admin role, it means a little less than half (23 of 49) will make above the living wage, which is $13.90-$15.11/hour depending on insurance benefits.
Pending IDA approval of the sales tax exemption, the project is set to start in January, and finish up by March 2019. Syracuse’s Schopfer Architects is in charge of the new building layout, with Dunn and Sgromo PLLC serving as the civil and structural engineers for the project. LeChase Construction, a Rochester-based construction firm involved in several local projects, will be the general contractor.