As the public got a first glimpse of the new West Rest Haven nursing home Sunday afternoon, speakers at the dedication ceremony emphasized the theme of a homecoming.
The 127 residents occupying the old West Rest Haven suddenly became homeless when the explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. 200 yards away destroyed their building on April 17, 2013.
Some had to have medical treatment as a result of the explosion, and some had to stay with relatives, while the rest went to 14 other senior care facilities in the area.
While they were there, West Rest Haven’s board oversaw the construction of a new 75,000-square-foot skilled nursing facility that residents will begin coming home to this week.
The former facility was one of the closest buildings to the blast. The new building sits on the site of the former West Assisted Living facility, which also was destroyed but not rebuilt.
Volunteer greeter Alison Hurtick said at least 500 visitors had registered for the event.
An overflow crowd filled the dining room, where board president Robert Payne read the names of all the companies that had worked on the new facility. He thanked the staff of West Rest Haven for “putting the health and well-being of our residents first. We’ll never forget the tragedy that happened to us,” he said.
He praised the hard work of the staff, headed by administrator Rose Ann Morris, who has been with the center for 31 years.
“It’s been an exhausting and educational experience for us all, and we couldn’t have had a better administrator,” he said.
In a dedication prayer, First Baptist Church pastor John Crowder gave thanks “for all the generations that will call this place home.”
Morris said the former facility was 53,000 feet but had 145 rooms. The new one has 127 rooms but with much more space.
“Everything here is a lot bigger,” she said.
Its first three residents will arrive Monday. An earlier announcement by Payne said it may be completely open in three to four weeks after a final inspection.
The first facility opened in 1967 with 40 beds.
Reports of the explosion that wrecked it said the residents were getting ready for bed when personnel told them they had to evacuate.
They were shuttled past debris for the next few hours until all were taken either to hospitals or makeshift treatment centers or to other nursing homes that could receive them immediately.
A fire had ignited 30 tons of granulated nitrogen fertilizer that exploded and destroyed whole neighborhoods in the north part of the city and killed 15 people, most of them first responders trying to deal with the flames and aftermath of the blast.
In June, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill requiring ammonium nitrate dealers to allow inspections by state fire marshals, to keep a 30-foot distance between the fertilizer and flammable materials and to report storage quantities to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
A number of former and future residents of West Rest Haven were on hand for Sunday’s ceremonies. One, Louis Mynarcik, said his family lives in West. He has been at a rest home in Waco since the day of the explosion.
“I was hit on the head that night and had to be in the hospital awhile, but I’m OK now,” he said. “This new building is really nice, whenever we can finally get in.”