By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer
Multiyear construction projects worth more than $5.8 million are nearing completion at the Illinois Veterans Home.
Dave Clifford, chief engineer at the home, said work on the powerhouse and boiler unit, and an air-conditioning system for three resident buildings started more than two years ago and are in their final stages.
"We're just dialing in these two systems," Clifford said. "This was all done for the safety and well-being of our residents and staff."
Work began on the chimney stack and ash-handling system in the powerhouse in midsummer 2010. The $3.2 million upgrade called for rehabilitation of a deteriorating chimney that was built in 1886 -- the year the home opened as the Illinois Soldiers and Sailors Home.
A news release from Gov. Pat Quinn issued when the project began said contractors would "replace the deteriorating bricks and increase the stack height to meet Environmental Protection Agency emission requirements."
The chimney had been shortened during an earlier round of repairs. Home officials said the taller chimney also would help create a stronger updraft so the boiler would operate more efficiently.
Ryan Yantis, communications manager for the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, said the project was complex because of the need for safe disposal of materials, which could harm the environment. The chimney was completed late last year.
Work continues on the ash-handling system, which removes caustic materials generated by the power plant. Clifford met with one of the project team members Friday to discuss the work that remains.
"Actually, it is a complicated system, and we're dialing it in for maximum efficiency. The staff in the boiler house says the additional draft from the chimney is helping," Clifford said.
An air-conditioning and building-rehabilitation program valued at $2.69 million also is nearing completion after it got under way in late 2010.
A central chiller plant was needed to provide air conditioning for three infirmaries. Kent Infirmary is a three-story, 59,000-square-foot structure built in 1972. Elmore and Schapers infirmaries were built in 1963, and both contain more than 34,000 square feet of floor space.
Because of the age of the buildings, the contract included the removal of asbestos and an upgrade to the electrical system as part of the air-conditioning work.
"Actually, the buildings had three separate units located in their basements. They were old systems, and they had been problematic in the last couple of years," Clifford said.
State Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, said the chiller unit was made a priority after it became difficult to maintain. The Illinois Jobs Now capital program provided the money to meet the need.
"This was a critical maintenance upgrade that needed to take place," Sullivan said. "We're talking about veterans, most of whom are seniors, and we need to maintain as comfortable a setting as we can."
By putting in a central chiller unit to cool all three buildings, Clifford said, there will be significant energy savings. The system will have a backup system, as well, in case the main chiller unit should need repairs.
The Quincy home is the state's largest and oldest facility for veterans. The 210-acre campus houses 25 buildings and more than 420 veterans, and more than 540 employees work there.