Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 11:00 am
Since 1904, Bethesda Lutheran Homes and Services Inc. in Watertown has provided assisted living services and shelter to thousands of developmentally disabled people.
The organization celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. It currently provides a home for more than 250 residents at its 400-acre facility on a pastoral site overlooking the Rock River.
Beginning in the year 2000, Bethesda began a $55 million dollar modernization and renovation program to upgrade buildings constructed 30 to 50 years ago. Using the design innovations of Eppstein Uhen Architects and the construction know-how of The Bentley Co., both Milwaukee firms, Bethesda’s administrators have enhanced their former institutional-like residences to more home-like surroundings.
Never before have Bethesda residents had their own private bedrooms. The four-wing pod concept is similar to many dormitories on college campuses, where each resident has a private room with a common bath between them. Twenty residents share a kitchen and convenient dining area.
At Bethesda, about half the residents are in wheelchairs. Ages range from a minimum of 8 years to people in their 90s; the majority of the residents are older adults. Where possible, Bethesda assists the younger people, those with minor disabilities, by placing them in group homes within a small residential community, finding them jobs suitable to their capabilities. Where the capabilities of residents require less supervision, group homes have gained acceptance as a substitute for institutional settings. Bethesda cares for more than 900 people, endorsing the group-home concept, which started during the 1970s. It currently has 40 to 50 group homes throughout 12 states.
Bethesda’s Watertown corporate office, which was completed in January 2003, is its international headquarters from which it manages five regions in the states. Last March, it reached out globally and established its first group home in Bucharest, Romania.
The renovation and construction will take more than three years. The project was tackled in phases. The Dierker residence hall was the first phase. Built more than 50 years ago, Dierker had a dark, clinical atmosphere both inside and out.
One of the goals of the renovation was to provide a more home-like quality for residents.
A second goal was to improve the efficiency in transporting residents. The old buildings had 11 miles of halls and corridors. The Bethesda campus has nearly 500,000 square feet under roof.
Eppstein-Uhen’s redesign provides four residential wings in the Dierker building. Each wing has 20 single-occupant bedrooms with a shared bath between rooms, bathrooms large enough to accommodate residents in wheelchairs and those who have to be moved with hoists. Larger windows bring in more light. Each wing has a common kitchen, where residents can dine closer to their rooms.
Incorporating gabled roofs and Greek revival-style parallel colonnades, called pergolas, the Dierker building has a more classic appearance. That was Phase 1.
Phase 2 involved creating a central area like a small village with a canteen/cafZ
Bethesda media professionals, working in what is known as their National Christian Resource Center, have produced more than 45,000 training-related videos that generate about $2 million in annual revenue. Their new sound studio features the latest technology.
Phase 3 will address other residence halls on Bethesda grounds to upgrade the living environment for the rest of the people who live on campus.
In Phase 4 work continuing into this year, an older residence will be demolished, and the picturesque campus will receive a face-lift with newer landscaping and repaving.
David Geske, the president and chief executive officer for Bethesda Lutheran Homes & Services, said, "Eppstein Uhen Architects and The Bentley Company created an entirely new and innovative environment for more than 250 individuals with developmental disabilities with little interruption in their daily lives. Their design and implementation have been remarkable."
April 30, 2004 Small Business Times, Milwaukee