Merrimack County Nursing Home Boscowen, New Hampshire

How do you replace a 291-bed nursing home with a building that actually looks like a series of homes rather than an institution? It’s no small challenge, suggests architect Jonathan Smith whose design firm, Warrenstreet Architects of Concord, New Hampshire, recently completed a $40 million replacement for the 143-year-old Merrimack County Nursing Home in Boscowan, New Hampshire.

The key to success, he says, is selecting materials and colors that project a warm, residential feel, while providing the durability that will yield a strong return on investment over the long haul. To underscore his point, Smith specified some 100,000 square feet of architectural aluminum panels in a custom yellow to clad the exterior of the new nursing home, which opened in March 2008. Rigid foam insulation 1½-inches thick fills the wall cavity directly behind the metal panels to give the wall system an insulating value of R-24.

“With metal, we were able to simulate the residential look of oversized clapboard and board and batten panels,” Smith says, adding that the styling was further reinforced through the use of a custom yellow finish and some 34,500 square feet of patina green aluminum roofing. The roofing panels are used exclusively as accent pieces, primarily as cladding for the gables and eaves.

Metal versus other materials

“While metal gives us the look we want, we initially analyzed 25 different exterior wall systems, including concrete block, ceramic tile, and brick,” Smith recalls. “We considered factors such as installed cost, service life, maintenance, and design flexibility. Metal scored well in all categories. We estimated the cost of the metal cladding and insulation at about $11.50 per square feet, a bargain for a system we expect will provide reliable service for 60 to 100 years.”

The Merrimack County Nursing Home traces its origins to the Alms House, which was built on an adjacent site in 1865. In the ensuing years, the facility expanded seven times, and, in the process, earned a reputation for providing excellent care. The complex, which had served as a skilled nursing facility until March 2008, is being converted into an assisted living center.

In 2005, Merrimack County opted to build a new nursing home that projects a more open, residential facade, according to Smith. “The process,” he says, “grew out of the design of the typical resident room and the desire to provide residents with a strong sense of community.”

The 235,000-square-foot building features seven L-shaped residential areas, each with its own dining room, serving kiosk, and a large public community room with direct access to resident rooms. The nursing support areas were placed in “discreet” locations to ensure they wouldn’t be “the dominant feature in resident life,” while allowing the staff to function efficiently, Smith says.

Centralized services

A central atrium provides the “Main Street” for the entire nursing home, while the community room serves as the “neighborhood” or cul-de-sac within each twin-wing cluster. Food is distributed to the seven serving areas from a central kitchen on the first floor. Other amenities include a café, a hair salon, a gift shop, and administration offices. Heating and cooling are provided by a geothermal system consisting of 430 heat pumps that draw water from wells located beneath the staff parking lot.

The design and ambience of the new facility were influenced to a degree by some of New Hampshire’s most prominent hotels, including The BALSAMS, The Mount Washington Hotel, and Wentworth by the Sea. “While we viewed the facility on a grand scale in keeping with its picturesque perch overlooking the Merrimack River Valley,” Smith said, “we couldn’t lose sight of the need to have residents, their families, and staff interact effectively on a daily basis. We simply wanted the best of all worlds.”

Toy Henson is the Education Director for The Metal Initiative, the educational arm of the Metal Roof and Wall Industries in North America.

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Long-Term Living 2009 June;58(6):24-27

Topics: Articles , Design , Facility management