Byron breaks ground in Fort Wayne

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This fall marked the beginning of a new era for Byron Health Center. The nonprofit, which still inhabits its northwest Allen County facility, broke ground on a new 15-acre site on Lake Avenue in Fort Wayne Oct. 10.

As county and city officials, members of the Byron team and CEO Deb Lambert dropped the first shovels of dirt, a turning point was made in the organization’s 165-year history.

Byron officials chose Oct. 10 for the ceremony because it marked the 136th birthday of the organization’s namesake, Irene Byron, a visiting nurse for the Anti-Tuberculosis League who was instrumental in pushing for a tuberculosis clinic to be built in the Allen County community. During World War I, Byron served as a nurse in Waco, Texas, where she eventually passed away. After the sanitarium was finally constructed in 1919, it was named in her honor.

Opening in 1853 as the Allen County Poor Farm, Byron Health Center later served as a cholera clinic, a tuberculosis clinic, a hospital and, for the past 52 years, a specialty nursing home.

The goal for the new facility was not to build “another nursing home,” Lambert said, but a place where some residents can live semi-independently.

“This building will promote life and people living on their own terms,” Lambert said.

The 126,000-square-foot facility, which will be built by Weigand Construction of Fort Wayne and is expected to open in 2020, will accommodate about 170 residents, including 120 long-term skilled nursing beds and 50 assisted-living apartments. Unlike Byron’s current home, the new facility will comprise six separate “neighborhoods,” Lambert said, including courtyards for residents to be able to enjoy the outdoors on their own terms. The $38 million investment includes about $12.5 million in New Market tax credits facilitated by city officials.

The Allen County Board of Commissioners owns the facility in which Recovery Health Systems currently operates Byron.

“The board of commissioners has been a partner in the care and welfare of this vulnerable population for many decades,” Allen County Commissioner Therese Brown said during the ceremony. “Though we will no longer be their landlord, we are proud to have been an eye witness to the transformation, evolution and renewal of this organization. It has been nothing less than awe-inspiring.”

Though plans for the existing site have not been announced, County Commissioner Nelson Peters told Great Fort Wayne Business Weekly in June that the county doesn’t want to develop the site itself. The county has a development expert looking to come up with a master plan for the site’s redevelopment.

U.S. Rep. Jim Banks (R-3rd) was slated to speak during the ceremony but was unable to attend. Instead, Deputy District Director Russ Jehl spoke on the opportunities the Byron move brings not only to the new facility but the old site as well.

“The fact that there will be a $30 million-plus investment right here and that it will then open up new possibilities at the old facility for the county and the endless things that could transpire there and what it does to solidify this Randallia corridor, this is truly special,” he said.