BELLEVILLE — Retired architect Gene Hausmann lives in the St. Paul's Home apartments he designed in 1985.
Hausmann said it was the smart thing for him and his wife, Mary Ann, both 81, to move to the independent senior living center when it became difficult to take care of their "big ol' house."
As the couple age, Hausmann expects to one day move into the nursing home that St. Paul's started to build this December.
St. Paul's had a groundbreaking ceremony Sunday for the new $29.5 million nursing home. The project is one of the city's largest developments in the past five years.
Susan Franklin, executive director of the nonprofit St. Paul's Home, said work has started on the site and construction should take about 18 to 24 months.
The old nursing home and sheltered care area will be demolished once the new 130-bed facility is built. It will connect to the independent living apartments at 1021 W. E St. where the Hausmanns reside.
"We all reach a point where you can't do everything for yourself anymore," Hausmann said. "When Mary Ann and I need it, we'll be moving in there. It's nice to know there will be a new nursing home concept."
St. Paul's Home Board Chairman Steve Suess said the building will be modeled after new concepts in nursing care.
About 20 residents will be organized into each wing, or "neighborhoods," equipped with their own kitchen and living room.
Gone will be the hospital-like setup where there are two residents to a room and only one resident gets a window view, Suess said. In the new facility, every resident will have a window.
"We're taking the institution out of it and making it a home," Suess said.
Architect Susan Bruker, of The Lawrence Group, had in mind some of the concepts from Hausmann's independent living building when she designed the new St. Paul's building.
Hausmann's design is modern for its time, Bruker said, breaking away from traditional senior living centers that look like motels, with residents situated down long hallways.
In Hausmann's design, each of the apartments are organized around a focal point -- an atrium that makes the space feel open, airy and light.
For the groundbreaking ceremony, residents on various levels of the building were either seated at tables or leaned against the hardwood railing to look into the center of the building, decorated with a piano and Christmas tree.
"It's one of the things that have attracted most of the people here," Hausmann said.
Hausmann said nursing home care is more important than ever because people live longer.
When Hausmann and his partners at WHGK Architects in Belleville designed the independent living apartments, they had in mind residents in their 60s who were tired of taking care of a home but who were still able to cook for themselves.
"By the time you were 70 years old, you were in a nursing home or dead," Hausmann said.
Before dignitaries donned construction hats and shoveled the customary first scoops of dirt, Eckert told attendees that he is proud of St. Paul's long tradition of ministering to the community.
St. Paul's has been in Belleville for more than 85 years and Eckert said he hopes the senior living center stays for another nine decades.
The home is a place known for providing good care and comfort to its elderly residents, Eckert said.
"Sometimes I look around and I want to say, 'Save me a room.'"
Eckert said his family has a lot of memories and appreciation for the facility. Eckert's first job in 1972 was at St. Paul's Home and it is where Eckert's dad stayed prior to his passing.
Eckert also called the development a great catalyst that will propel the city forward.
The last major development projects in the city included Memorial Hospital's $24 million investment into a third medical building in 2009; and two shopping centers, the $90 million Belleville Crossing project and the $110 million Green Mount Commons area.
The City Council in October voted to approve $250,000 in tax increment financing money to help St. Paul's pay for demolition. The money will come from TIF District No. 3.
As part of the business agreement, St. Paul's has to retain 54 full-time jobs and 16 part-time jobs; create five full-time jobs in the first year and stay open for at least five years.