Work may start next summer on long-awaited Swann rec center

Work may start next summer on long-awaited Swann rec center

CHAMPAIGN – A project to build a long-awaited recreation center for the 120 residents of Swann Special Care Center could begin next summer.

The $3 million addition to the residential center on Kenwood Road will also house the Swann Special School and day-training program, now located at two other sites.

The children and adults who live at Swann have severe and profound developmental disabilities, and must be transported to the school or day-training center for exercise or play. But many of the residents have medical complications, so they can't go outdoors on rainy, wintry or very hot days.

Swann had been raising money for a new recreation center for 15 years and planned to build it on land donated by the city north of the residential facility, on Kenwood Road extended. The project has expanded and will now combine Swann's three locations into one central facility that is more affordable to operate and friendlier to residents, officials said.

"This has just been so long in the making," said Angela Devaney, longtime speech language therapy consultant for Swann. "It will definitely improve their quality of life."

Champaign architect Andrew Feld, a longtime Swann supporter, is drawing up plans for the building. The main 14,500-square-foot addition, on the south side of the care center, will hold four classrooms, a day-training center and the recreation center.

A 3,300-square foot covered courtyard will also allow residents to go outdoors even in bad weather. Smaller projects in other parts of the building will add a laundry room, storage area and two more resident rooms and expand the current cramped kitchen, Feld said.

The estimated project cost is $3.2 million, but "we're hoping it'll be less than that," said Max Redmon, Swann's former executive director. Redmon heads a fundraising committee with James Barham, who has helped raise money for the project for years.

The hope is to start work on the addition next summer and finish by fall 2012. The project will be financed by Swann's parent company, Medical Rehab Centers of Lexington, Ky., which manages about 16 facilities, Redmon said.

He said Swann will repay the bonds with savings, including nearly $200,000 it now pays to rent space for the school, at 2412 W. Springfield Ave., and the day-training program, housed in the former Social Security Administration building near Springfield and Mattis avenues.

The addition will also include four new resident rooms, with room for eight people, which should bring in more revenue, he said. It costs about $70,000 a year to live at Swann, said Redmon, who retired in 2008.

The Swann Advisory and Fundraising committee has promised to raise $300,000 to furnish the recreation center with adaptive equipment. So far it has brought in $117,000.

"These children deserve recreation. It's a population that doesn't have access to this," Barham said.

At the rec center, residents will be able to use adapted playground equipment, water therapy or multisensory toys anytime, rain or shine – even in the dead of winter, officials said. It will also be open to other area residents with disabilities.

"Physical fitness is important to people with disabilities," Devaney said. "What they have access to now is pretty limited. From a therapeutic standpoint, I think it will mean a great deal."

Residents now have use of a small sensory room with lights and music, and a swing made for wheelchairs, but not much else, she said. Classrooms have activities for them, but "space is so limited they can't do anything big," she said. "Everything has to be so much larger because they're in wheelchairs."

Because of their health requirements, residents also need immediate access to nursing staff 24 hours a day, so they can't go offsite very long, she added. Transportation is also an issue, and many facilities that are handicapped accessible are simply too far away.

"This has just been so long in the making," she said. "Their quality of life is already so compromised. This will be wonderful for them. "

Most of Swann's residents are wards of the state, and the majority will spend the rest of their lives at Swann, Barham said. Swann's staff offers an "atmosphere of caring" in a bright, cheerful facility, where staff members know every resident's story and have personal attachments to them, he said.

"That's Max's mission, to get these children and adults one of the best environments he can," Barham said. "It's clean. They do not let people sit around. It is refreshing when you go in. It allows you to concentrate on the well-being of the children."

Barham said he met Feld and Redmon in 1995, while working with Ambucs to build the accessible playground at Hessel Park. Ambucs gave Swann $10,000 at the time to build an indoor recreation room, but that space was later absorbed by the cafeteria.

Starting today, Barham is hosting an art show by Swann residents at the Indi Go Artist Co-Op, 9 E. University Ave. A reception to showcase the art is scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. Nov. 23, with free admission. Swann uses the art on the holiday cards it sells each year.

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