NEWTOWN >> Pickering Manor is settling into its new building addition after receiving its final inspection from the state’s department of health.

After a decade’s worth of planning and a year in construction, the new addition at the skilled and assisted living facility, nestled in a residential neighborhood between Chancellor Street, Frost Lane and Lincoln Avenue, is complete. And residents and staff have begun the process of transitioning into the new building.

The hallmark of the new 37,533 square foot addition, named the Yates Pavilion in memory of the late Sid Yates, is its warm and inviting lobby that not only creates a main public entrance, but dramatically increases the safety and security of the facility.

“We didn’t have a lobby before. We had a house,” said executive director Michelle Knobloch referencing the Pickering House, which was converted to a retirement home after the death of Henry Pickering in the 1960s and then expanded over the years with additions. “It was a concern because we had multiple entrances, multiple access points. And people really didn’t know where to go. Now they’ll know.”

Just off the lobby is a new administrative suite with office space for the executive director, assistant administrator/COO and administrative assistant, a conference room and a copier and mail room.

The two story vaulted ceiling mezzanine lobby provides direct access to Pickering’s four distinct new neighborhoods dedicated to short term inpatient rehabilitation, personal care, skilled nursing/hospice care and memory care.

The two neighborhoods inside the new addition - personal care (15 beds) and short term in patient rehabilitation (15 beds) - are linked together by extra wide hallways for wheelchairs and walkers; boast spacious common areas for socializing and meals; activity rooms; outdoor gardens, patios and balconies for enjoying the outdoors; and a variety of living spaces, from efficiency to multiple rooms.

An outdoor courtyard will include an herb garden, which Pickering’s chefs will make use of to season their dishes; a waterfall that will be backlit at night; landscaping; outdoor tables and barbecue grill; and seating areas for residents to enjoy the outdoors.

The expansion also includes a brand new occupational and physical therapy space accessible from the lobby and from each neighborhood and overlooking the landscaped garden courtyard

“This is one of the stars of our show,” said Knobloch of the therapy gym. “This truly is one of the reasons we decided to do this expansion. We wanted to be able to have a dedicated rehab unit specifically for people coming from the hospital, getting the therapy they need and then going home or to a lower level of care.”

A plaque will eventually adorn the wall of the new space recognizing the Newtown Rotary Club for its purchase of equipment over the years from its annual Pickering Manor golf outing.

“The way this has been designed and located, the therapy gym will service all of the neighborhoods, but the dedicated rehab unit will have its own private entrance,” said Knobloch.

Each neighborhood, accented by quiet blue and teal colors, is built around a core community area with a common dining room, lounge area with fireplace and access to either an outdoor balcony or patio. Surrounding the core area are living units, nursing stations, offices, activity rooms and private dining rooms.

Individual living units, said Knobloch, are similar to hotel rooms with flatscreen TVs, a refrigerator, cupboards, a sink and large bathrooms. Rooms either boast views of the garden courtyard or of tree-lined Newtown neighborhoods.

The next phase of the project will include the complete renovation of the older part of the manor into two neighborhoods, one dedicated to memory care (21 rooms) and the other to long term/hospice care (32 rooms).

The renovation of the older section is slated to begin on October 4th.

Knobloch said the house itself, which now houses the administrative suite, will be repurposed for Pickering’s cottage (independent living) residents.

“I would love to turn the living room into a little pub - a community space - where they can come over from the cottages, grab a burger and a beer and play games. We don’t have that right now,” said Knobloch.

Knobloch points out that one of Pickering’s greatest strengths through the years has been its small size.

“We are able to deliver that small, hometown kind of feel,” said Knobloch, who is quick to point out that even though the addition looks large from the outside, it will only be housing 30 new residents - 15 in the second floor rehabilitation neighborhood and 15 in first floor personal care neighborhood.

“Our success and our mission has always been to be small, to hold that family kind of feeling. And even though the new building looks imposing, we’re only growing by 14,” she said. “And we did that on purpose because knowing our residents and their families is the key to our success.”

At the same time, the expansion will allow Pickering to diversify its services “so we’re able to offer more of what the community and the marketplace competitively is now offering,” she said.

The facility opened in 1963 thanks to the generosity of Henry Russell Pickering who bequeathed his home on Lincoln Avenue and a sum of money for the creation of a retirement center to serve the older citizens of Newtown and vicinity.

“What we do over in the current building is just awesome,” said Knobloch. “And I’m proud to say that four months into this we are Covid-free. And that is something we don’t take for granted. We know we have to be vigilant. We know we have to walk the walk. And I congratulate the staff because they’ve done that and proven that. Their behavior comes with them every day to work. The fact we’ve been Covid free is evidence of the staff and commitment we have. I’m so proud and grateful.

“And I’m proud of this community, which has supported us with food, cards and love,” she said. “This has been so hard for our residents and families. We have been able to provide porch visits so they’re able to see their loved ones.

“This new building is the beginning of our future and something that will take us and the community that we serve into the next chapter,” said Knobloch. “I could not be more proud. It’s been a long journey of planning. We are just so excited about what’s yet to come.”

Knobloch said the expansion is needed to keep the not-for-profit, community-run facility competitive in a constantly changing healthcare marketplace.

“What we have done has been wonderful, but if we don’t change with the changing marketplace, we won’t be able to stay competitive.”

According to Knobloch, the Community Welfare Council, which oversees Pickering Manor, the historic Newtown Theatre and the Lighthouse Cemetery, began a comprehensive look at its facilities a decade ago.

“Our board realized that as a single site building, we needed to start strategically looking at our future and that’s exactly what we did,” said Knobloch.

“We did it thoughtfully. We hired consultants. We looked at what is in our competitive marketplace and what we needed to do to remain competitive,” said Knobloch. “The reallocation of space puts Pickering in the best possible position as a single provider site to compete in the marketplace.

“Bucks County is rich in terms of these types of services. So in order to sustain ourselves and Mr. Pickering’s mission, we needed to be more competitive and offer these other services like long term memory care and short term rehab to the people we serve in our community.”

Speaking of Mr. Pickering, Knobloch speculated that if he were alive today he’d be proud of what his vision has become.

“Whether we’re up here taking care of families on the hill or families are down watching their kids play ball on his field, it is an honor to be associated with the Pickering name,” said Knobloch.

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