As the engine of the enormous 38-ton Caterpillar excavator tractor roared to life, the person at the controls of the yellow behemoth calmly raised its giant bucket over the top of a nearly 40-year-old Denver nursing home. The operator, social worker Linda Wirth, who has been blind since birth due to retinitis pigmentosa, then dropped the bucket into the middle of the buildings roof, smashing through it like balsa wood. She repeatedly smashed it into bits with precision and skill.
With a smile on her face, Wirth stepped out of the cab to acknowledge a large crowd of cheering spectators who came to view this symphony of destruction. The Nov. 21st demolition marked the final phase of a $66.5 million makeover and expansion at Clermont Park Retirement Community, nestled in southeast Denver near Colorado Boulevard and Yale Avenue.
Wirth, CLCs director of Social Services, was the lucky winner of a drawing among Clermont Park residents and employees to take the first swing at the old nursing home.
Wirth joked, “I can see the headline now – ‘blind social worker destroys nursing home.'”
Wirth was aided by a representative from Pinkard Construction when she delivered the initial blows to the old building. Pinkard also was involved in the first phase of construction, which added 15 new assisted living and 17 memory support apartments, updated existing residential living apartment homes, and added a Town Center and 63-suite skilled nursing community.
“It will be 22 years in April that I’ve overseen social services for CLC. I worked in the building that I hit with the bucket. In fact, the very area I hit was the location of my old office,” said Wirth. “I like to try new things and it was fun to be part of reinvention of Clermont Park.”
Christian Living Communities (CLC), a local nonprofit that owns and operates Clermont Park, successfully sold bonds to finance the addition of 74 residential apartment homes, a new Adult Day Program, and a fitness center, fellowship hall and fine dining restaurant in the existing Town Center. Renovation efforts began in 2008.
The final construction will last approximately 15 months, and it is anticipated the 74 residential apartment homes will be open by spring 2013. Currently, 55 of these apartments are reserved, leaving 19 available.
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The story also appeared in the print edition of The Villager Newspaper on 12/22/2011.