FARGO — Six months after a devastating fire, the company that owns Elim Rehab and Care Center here has begun charting a course to build a new skilled nursing facility on the site.

Most of the heavily-damaged structure at 3534 S. University Drive, built in 1967, will be demolished in the coming months but a portion will remain, according to Twin Cities-based Cassia.

Andrew Centanni, vice president of building design and development, told The Forum the southeast wing that was farthest from the origin of the fire will be preserved, along with the center's chapel.

Angela Brown, chief human resources officer, hopes to restore one more aspect — the team of employees who found other jobs when the fire put them out of work.

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“We are thankful that they have been able to find opportunities with other caregiving communities … but we're very hopeful that many of them will choose to return,” Brown said.

The Jan. 23 fire, caused by an overheated electrical component in an attic space of a child care center in the building, displaced 111 residents and more than 30 children.

All escaped safely to another building on the Elim campus or the nearby Eagles Elementary School.

The children were later relocated for child care at the Boys and Girls Club of the Red River Valley in the Rose Creek neighborhood.

Most of the residents were later relocated to other long-term care centers locally or in surrounding smaller cities. “They just embraced our residents, and we couldn't have been happier because relocation is difficult,” said Renee Muhonen, Elim's administrator.

David Juve, Elim’s chaplain, continues to visit many of the displaced residents in their new facilities. “A big change like that for people when it's sudden has an emotional impact,” he said.

Firefighters battle a blaze Jan. 23 at Elim Rehab & Care Center, 3534 University Drive S. in Fargo. Forum file photo
Firefighters battle a blaze Jan. 23 at Elim Rehab & Care Center, 3534 University Drive S. in Fargo. Forum file photo

Centanni said the fact that they were able to find spaces for so many residents, in short order, led him and others to wonder whether there might be too many resident beds in the area.

As they calculated the cost of the fire damage and worked through the insurance process, Cassia also did a local market study and determined a rebuild, with fewer beds, would be best, he said.

The new Elim Rehab and Care Center will have approximately the same square footage as the previous facility, but a different footprint. It will offer a total of 88 beds, about 30 fewer than before.

Twenty of those beds will be in a transitional care unit in the wing to be preserved, Centanni said.

Paul Libbon, Cassia’s regional director of operations, said their market study showed people want private rooms and private bathrooms, which is factoring into the design.

“We were able, going to a smaller building, to be able to accommodate that for most of our units that we're building,” he said.

The new facility will have 81 total units, including 74 private rooms and seven shared units, where two residents will each have their own bedroom but share a bathroom.

Other options, including services and amenities, are still in the works.

Also unknown is whether the new building will house a child care center. “It’s still on the table, but more to come,” Libbon said.

The architect on the project is Pope Architects of St. Paul. Centanni aims to have a general contractor chosen by mid-September.

He hopes for a Dec. 1 start — either demolishing the fire-damaged building then or already having it down and beginning first steps of construction, so that it’s fully underway in early 2021.

Residents could be welcomed to the new facility in the first quarter of 2022, he said.