Covenant Place: New building construction beginning

Covenant Place is beginning construction for the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Building, which will replace the Covenant I building (artist’s rendering shown).

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Covenant Place, having met its first fundraising goal, is beginning construction on a facility that will replace its Covenant I building by the spring of 2016.

“The trucks are out,” Executive Director Joan Denison said. “We’ll see construction getting underway immediately.”

The project represents only the first phase of a larger effort that would replaceall three of the apartment buildings for older adults over the next several years using a combination of existing real estate and land recently acquired from the Jewish Community Center.

Covenant I will be replaced by the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Building, a 101-unit building that will be completed before Covenant I is demolished. This will ensure that residents will be relocated only once — directly to their new apartments.

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The organization has closed on the $4.4 million in private fundraising it sought for the Weinberg Building, which is  expected to cost about $20 million, assembled from a combination of tax credits, fundraising and loans. Though work on the new site will begin immediately, official groundbreaking is planned for next month.

Denison said work will start with $84,000 in public improvements, which will benefit the entire Millstone Campus. This includes new storm sewer lines and a new campus entry off Schuetz Road near Lindbergh Boulevard.

“This is another way for people to come in and out,” Denison said. “It also gives a very direct access for EMS and fire to literally come across the street and into the campus if they need to.” 

The new tract will be regraded, part of a $100,000 site preparation, to match the grade of the existing complex.

Denison said the institution is already raising money for a second phase, which would replace the Covenant II building. The third phase, which would eventually replace the CHAI Building, the third structure in the complex, is still being planned, but Covenant Place is still focusing on fundraising for the second phase.

“Let me be clear that our goal is to do the CHAI Building,” Denison said. “It just has a big fundraising need and so we want to make sure we have the funds in place before we move forward with it.”

Denison said that the Covenant Place buildings have ongoing maintenance issues and that it wouldn’t make economic sense to renovate them. In addition, the outdated structures do not meet the needs of an increasingly elderly population.

“These buildings were built over 40 years ago,” she said. “Though it is hard to think about it at this time, no one imagined people were going to live into their 90s and 100s.”

That means both an increased demand for senior housing and a bigger need for units that can more easily accommodate assisted mobility devices. Denison said that units in the new building will feature universal design, which means that apartments and amenities can be used by a continuum of people of any age, including elderly residents with disabilities and mobility problems.

Bathrooms in the Weinberg Building will be large enough to handle scooters and walkers. Other amenities will include energy-efficient appliances, laundry facilities on every floor and Wi-Fi for common areas. All of the apartments will be one-bedroom, eliminating Covenant I’s often vacant efficiency units.

Covenant Place will also maintain more than $3 million in contracts with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for rent subsidies. Originally scheduled to run through 2019, the HUD contracts have been extended an additional 20 years.

Kristi Meyers Gallup, director of development at Covenant, called those dollars a “gift to the community” that help to take care of the area’s elderly and highlight the importance of the complex. 

“We have a high percentage of Jewish people at Covenant Place,” she said. “If the buildings fell apart, what would our community do with them? Where would the dollars come from? It’s wise for the whole community to invest in these properties.”

Covenant also identified two lead donors to the project to date – Helene Mirowitz and the Albert & Ruth Kopolow Fund, which is managed by the Jewish Federation.

“Covenant Place is very important to the St. Louis Jewish community, benefiting the hundreds of residents who live there and many more who participate in the programs and services that are offered,” Mirowitz said  in a statement released through Covenant Place. “Both my mother and my late husband Carl’s mother lived at Covenant Place. I am happy to be able to make a gift that ensures this community will be there for others for many years to come.”

Denison said Covenant is trying to meet the needs of an aging population.

“For many families, it is just not affordable to be in an assisted environment,” Denison said. “To live in a supportive environment where you have social service providers and you have some food support and programming support really enables people to stay in more of an independent environment without the need to move to a nursing care environment.”

Denison said residents seem excited about the move. A relocation firm had been hired to help smooth the transition. Management will help residents by packing, moving and unpacking their belongings for them.

She said the community has also responded positively to the need for funds, especially those who have had personal experiences with the complex.

“I was at the grocery the other day and ran into someone who came over to tell me how important Covenant was to his mother and how she’d become so isolated before moving into Covenant,” Denison said. “He said, ‘Within two weeks, she had new friends. She had things she was doing. She was so busy, and here she had been so isolated in her home.’

“That’s a story we’ve heard over and over again.”