Inglenook staff, residents ‘pleased’ with building

Hollidaysburg housing facility faces ongoing criticism from neighbors

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Comfortable chairs surrounded a circular table last month inside the Inglenook at Presbyterian Village of Hollidaysburg, a large senior housing facility along Jackson Street.

Around that table, administrators and a resident gathered to discuss what the newly constructed building in the Gaysport neighborhood has to offer.

Still, neighboring residents continue to speak out against the building, which they have opposed since its planning stages.

Inglenook, a name suggested by a staff member, is Welsh for a gathering area around a fireplace.

Debra Larkin, Presbyterian Village at Hollidaysburg’s executive director, said the goal was to create an atmosphere that would allow residents to see the building as a gathering place where they can form “new friendships and bond with everybody.”

Plans to build the new building, which includes 41 apartments available to those 62 and older, were first introduced by Presbyterian Senior Living in 2015.

Construction followed in 2016, and Larkin said it was completed in May, with residents moving in soon after. A dedication was held in August, when a number of local politicians visited the site to mingle with its residents.

“It’s been wonderful,” Larkin said, describing the weeks since the building’s opening.

In addition to full apartments, which vary in size from one- to two-bedroom units, the building includes gathering spaces, dining areas and a fitness program, among other offerings.

For Inglenook resident Donald Neely and his wife, Carolyn, peace of mind was a bigger attraction.

Neely, who is an area native, said he and his wife had been looking to move from their long-time home to an apartment-like setting for some time before settling on Inglenook.

“We spent a lot of time visiting institutions like this,” he said.

What set Inglenook apart was its attachment to other Presbyterian Village facilities in the area, Neely said.

Those facilities include independent living cottages, personal care apartments and skilled nursing accommodations, which provide varying levels of care for aging residents, who can transition easily from one level to another depending on their health, officials said.

“I don’t have to worry about Carolyn if something would happen to me,” Neely said.

Neely said he has no complaints about his time living in the building.

“We’ve been pleased. Everybody has just gone beyond expectations,” Neely said.

Meeting elderly residents’ needs is a top priority among Inglenook staff members, said Ellen Smith, the building’s sales director, who explained that accommodations exist for those with disabilities.

Smith and Larkin led a tour of the building, showing off an apartment unit that included several rooms, a balcony and a walk-in shower and bathtub.

Last month, Smith said 16 of the 41 apartments were occupied.

“We are ahead of where we wanted to be at this point,” she said.

Presbyterian Village has been a fixture in the community for 90-plus years, Larkin said, and Smith guessed that its services will be needed long into the future, as area residents reach old age.

The village’s administrators, who have a collective 200 years of experience, are uniquely equipped to deal with those needs, she said.

“I think the longevity of the staff says a lot about how we feel about our residents,” Smith said.

But not everyone is as pleased with Presbyterian Village’s progress. Since plans were first introduced, neighboring residents and other community members have fought Inglenook’s construction.

Some have taken issue with special exceptions given to the building, allowing construction to take place with smaller setbacks from the street, eliminating greenspace.

Others have complained that the large building detracts from quality of life in the residential area and claimed that staff members and residents will fill available on-street parking spaces.

As recently as this spring, residents attended a borough council meeting to complain about trash collection at the building, as well as problems they have with the structure’s appearance. They also alleged that staff members, who are not allowed to smoke on building grounds, were littering cigarette butts throughout the neighborhood.

In June, members of the Hollidaysburg Community Watchdog group made a trip to the state Attorney General’s office in Harrisburg, urging that charges be filed.

They claim that deception and local political corruption led to special exemptions for the Inglenook site.

“Our organization has overwhelming evidence to show that Presbyterian Senior Living … did intentionally and illegally misrepresent its project … in its applications for building and land development approvals,” according to a letter signed by Watchdog President Richard Latker.

Presbyterian Senior Living officials have long denied wrongdoing, and, last month, Larkin and Smith said they hope to be good neighbors.

Mirror Staff Writer Sean Sauro is at 946-7535.