WILLMAR -- The Rice Memorial Hospital Board of Directors awarded construction bids Wednesday for a $5.6 million renovation of the Rice Care Center.
At the same time, board members also voted formally to go ahead with the long-awaited project. Their action clears the way for construction to start at the beginning of October.
Contractors showed considerable interest in the project, and the bidding was competitive enough to come in at or below pre-construction estimates, hospital officials said.
"We feel pretty good about how the bids came back," said Mike Sc-hramm, chief executive of Rice Hospital, which owns the Rice Care Center.
The construction contracts account for about $4.1 million of the project. The remaining $1.5 million includes costs such as landscaping, signage, fees and contingencies. The entire project will take three years from start to finish and will be carried out in three phases starting this October, in the fall of 2013 and the fall of 2014.
It's the final step in a long-term effort to enhance the aging Rice Care Center to better meet the needs of residents and the community. Hospital officials have said that without the improvements, the viability of the care center's services likely will start to wane.
The first phase, completed a year ago, involved the construction of Therapy Suites, a new 23-bed unit for short-term stays and rehabilitation.
The bids awarded Wednesday are for renovation of the existing 1960s-era care center. The project will result in the creation of "neighborhood" environments and more private rooms for residents. Mechanical systems and other infrastructure also will undergo an upgrade.
The Rice Care Center ultimately will end up with 55 long-term care beds, all but seven of them private, and 23 beds in the short-term Therapy Suites.
The project comes with a critical logistical challenge: All the renovation must be carried out while continuing to provide services and a safe environment for residents.
Troy Barrick, Rice Care Center administrator, said about 20 residents were moved this past month into different rooms in preparation for the start of construction in one wing of the building.
Keeping families and residents informed about the project and its impact has been a priority, he said. "We have been meeting with families and residents all year."
The temporary room reassignments have gone smoothly so far, he said. "It's been very seamless. The families have been very supportive. We're looking forward to the noise and the construction and the dust."