Senior-focused agency breaks ground on $1.6M building

Senior Life Resources Northwest is adding a new building to its Richland campus.

The $1.6 million, 6,100-square-foot building will be a replica of the existing administration building and should be move-in ready in about six months, said Grant Baynes, executive director of the senior-focused nonprofit best known for operating Mid-Columbia Meals on Wheels.

Senior Life Resources Northwest broke ground in mid-April after securing a low-interest, 20-year fixed loan with Bank of the West. The agency’s finance and human resources teams will be moving into the new building.

Baynes said the addition has been part of the agency’s long-range plan.

Covid-19 made it clear the new building needed to come sooner rather than later.

Before the pandemic, workers shared offices but with social distancing requirements, this practice had to stop. The staff are now spread throughout the building, which gobbled up all available space.

Baynes said they’ve also hired more staff over the years. The agency recently remodeled its Yakima facility, adding five offices, and remodeled its Sunnyside building in 2019.

Senior Life Resources Northwest moved into its existing building in 2016 in Richland. “It was tight when we moved in but it was all we could afford,” Baynes said.

“In a million years I would never have guessed we would outgrow this building,” said Kristi Thien, nutrition services director.

The agency, which operates in eight counties, runs Home Care Services, providing in-home assistance to seniors;  Mid-Columbia Meals on Wheels, which offers home-delivered meals and well-checks for homebound clients; and dining center meals for mobile clients.

The dining centers are closed due to pandemic restrictions but drive-thru hot lunches are offered during the week.

The team overseeing construction includes two key people who earned Baynes’ trust because they worked on the original building project. Dale Perry is the construction project manager for Pratt & Co. Nick Castorini serves as the construction liaison for Senior Life Resources Northwest.

“We got the old team of Dale and Nick back together,” he said. “It’s the only reason I agreed to do (this construction) now.”

The building project includes security upgrades.

“We’ll have better control over building access and a chance to improve that here (in the existing building). This area has quite a few people drifting through,” Baynes said, referring to incidents of people camping, poking through the Dumpster and stealing a Meals on Wheels van in fall 2019.

The integrated security system with cameras also will include freezer alarms to protect meals destined for senior citizens from dangerous thaws. If there’s a rise in temperatures, an alarm will sound.

“To lose one would be disastrous,” Baynes said.

The Senior Life Resources Northwest teams are back to working in the office, using a hybrid schedule with split shifts but Baynes yearns to have the whole crew back together.

“I really miss everybody here because an integral part of how we operate and feed off each other and keep our energy going on through this is face to face,” he said.

Baynes, who likes to see his staff walking around and talking to each other, is already worrying about the new building splitting up the team, but he’s confident they’ll remain connected across the small parking lot between them.

“We’ll have some rebuilding to do and different dynamics in offices but we’re a human services business and human-to-human connection is integral to that,” he said.

As the pandemic and shutdowns took hold last year, Baynes secured a hefty supply of personal protective equipment for his staff, thanks to his quick reaction time, a result of more than 35 years in fire service.

The Senior Life Resources Northwest board of directors also is offering a $50 thank-you incentive to staff who get vaccinated.

Keeping senior clients and staff safe while coronavirus spreads through the community has been Baynes’s priority from the start.

He expressed concern about the loss of congregant dining for seniors being “a huge loss socially for a lot of people.”

“We are trying to work out now how to open hours at our café safely,” he said.

More people are receiving meals at home than ever before, he said.

“If we learned nothing else, we learned how incredible this community is,” he said, explaining that community members donated money when the agency’s annual fundraisers were canceled.

“A good company does pretty well in good times but it takes a great company to be great in bad times,” Baynes said. “It’s too late to start building relationships and a culture when times get bad. You’ve got to have that ahead of time.

“It’s helped us excel,” he said.

To learn more about Senior Life Resources Northwest, go to seniorliferesources.org or call 509-735-1911.

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