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WEST CHESTER — The Hickman, a residential and personal-care community for older adults seeking a safe and affordable living environment, is about to get a new look.
The Sharpless-Hall Building, originally built as two separate buildings and later connected to form one structure, has 28 units.
In recent times, The Hickman has had thoughts of expanding and, after two years, has finally received the go-ahead from the West Chester Borough Council on Feb. 16.
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“It’s about a $14 million project,” said Patrick McKenna, an attorney hired for The Hickman’s expansion. “We went back and forth on the height and what the setback should be and we got all the engineering basically done.”
It was a little bit of a long road for The Hickman with the borough’s zoning ordinance and get ting everything worked out.
Once it looked like all the concerns were sorted out, another roadblock sprung up.
What they didn’t expect to happen was the last few months getting held up by something as simple as sidewalks.
“In (late 2015), all of our plans for over two years had always contemplated replacing the crappy brick sidewalk with the concrete, much like the Mary Taylor House next door,” McKenna said. “We had been told we could do that and we had an opinion from the solicitor that agreed with our view and then we got to a council meeting and, at the time, the majority of council members disagreed and really fought hard. They thought that this brick option was the most important aspect of this project.”
After three months of going back and forth with the borough council and having to return to the planning commission over the sidewalk, The Hickman was informed that they had to replace the brick with only brick.
However, at the Feb. 16 work session meeting, a compromise was reached.
“It took 90 minutes for them to decide what to do and three motions before they were able to reach a conclusion,” McKenna said. “What we offered was to do stamped concrete to look like brick. The brick is expensive, among other things, and is also really not safe for personal-care residents. It went through after some procedural discussion, 4-3.”
Founded in 1891 by two Quaker women, Sallie Sharpless and Lydia Hall, the Sharpless-Hall Building was originally built in 1893 and 1896 before being connected. The Hickman Building, which connects to the Sharpless-Hall Building by a breezeway, was built in 1935 and houses 41 units. The two are also connected by an underground tunnel.
Though the Sharpless-Hall Building is historic, it just wasn’t staying up to standards for personal-care residents, which was the main reason for the new building.
“The Hickman has been around for 120-plus years and this was important to continuing the mission,” McKenna said. “With the existing Sharpless-Hall Building, they couldn’t keep going the way they were going. They were losing money. It’s difficult to maintain and it’s difficult to keep occupied. You’re competing in a new market that has newer and more modern facilities. In the long run, the Hickman was concerned that they couldn’t continue to serve their residents unless they took this next step and it was a big leap.”
The plan calls for the current Sharpless-Hall Building to be torn down and a new, three-story building will replace it which will house roughly 71 units.
“In its place, we’re essentially more than doubling the floor space of the existing building,” McKenna said. “The entire first floor will just be for dementia patients and be secured. The second and third floor will be for the personal-care residents. It’s going to take up much more of the area of that piece of property.”
However, the new building will try to keep the historic look and feel of The Hickman.
“That’s our goal,” McKenna said. “We were tasked with honoring the tradition and characteristics of the Hickman style – maintaining the porch, the crescent drive as you come in, the features of the windows, things such as that.”
Construction is set to begin after school lets out in June and, from start to finish, is expected to take 18 months.
McKenna and The Hickman are happy to get moving on the new building and are excited to see its completion.
“We are extremely grateful and relieved to have the project done,” McKenna said. “We’ve had a lot of feedback from a lot of different sources. We’re relieved and optimistic to moving forward and getting constructed and filling it with our residents.”