The former Pine Knoll hospital sanitarium, a building with a long history in Scott County, has been purchased by Quad-City developer Chris Ales, who plans to renovate it into 25 senior living apartments.

Built by Scott County and opened in 1914 primarily to take care of patients with tuberculosis, the building most recently was leased by the county to Vera French Community Mental Health Center to provide 24-hour care and treatment for adults with severe and persistent mental illness. It had a 60-bed capacity.

As federal regulations for Medicare funding changed to require smaller settings, Vera French began building smaller facilities and when the last patient was transferred in 2017, Pine Knoll closed.

Meantime, the county sold Pine Knoll to Vera French in 2016 for $1 because the estimated high cost to repair/renovate the building resulted in a zero dollar appraised value, county officials said at the time.

Ales closed on the building on July 2 for $200,000, he said.

Although he has not developed a precise budget for renovation, he said he expects it will be in the range of $4 million to $5 million range.

The roof leaks, so patching will begin immediately to stop any further water damage, but actual reconstruction likely won't begin until late winter of 2020, Ales said. Once construction is underway, the apartments should be ready within a year to 18 months, he said.

This coming winter will be spent developing plans and seeking financing, including state historic tax credits. Ales said he also may seek workforce housing and brownfield tax credits. The latter would be for asbestos abatement, he said.

Although the building at 2504 Telegraph Road has long been part of the county's history, many residents may be unaware of it because it is largely out of sight on a bluff, or knoll, between Rockingham and Telegraph roads, sitting on eight acres.

And, from the outside, it doesn't look historic because in 1977 a modern, four-story addition was attached to the front of the original, three-story sanitarium, obliterating any early 1900s features.

Other Ales projects

Ales has been redeveloping old buildings in the Quad-City area into senior living apartments since the early 2000s. His first project was the conversion of a former girls' school turned nursing home into the St. Katherine's Senior Living Center, 901 Tremont Ave., Davenport, opening in 2002.

Other projects have included the former Marycrest College and Kahl Home for the Aged and Inform, both in Davenport.

He is now finishing the conversion of a former Davenport school at 2104 W. 6th St. into apartments, a project he calls the Naval Station, and has begun preliminary work on the Kahl Building and Capitol Theatre on Davenport's West 3rd Street, most recently owned by Eastern Iowa Community Colleges. That building also will be apartments.

Almost all of those buildings were constructed with striking architectural features such as extensive woodwork, exterior cornices and brackets and stained glass. For the most part, Pine Knoll is an exception to that.

At Pine Knoll, views are the thing

But, situated on a hill and surrounded by acres of grass and trees, the building offers bright, attractive views, including the Mississippi River on the south, the woods of Schuetzen Park on the north and the property's own greenery on the east and west.

"I was skeptical the first couple of times I went through, but there are nice views," Ales said Monday, leading a tour of the building.

"This is why I was convinced to proceed," he said, stopping by a south-facing window and gesturing toward the view.  "I can envision people living in here and being happy with it.

"It fits what I do. It's maybe not as ornate a building (as the others), but the setting is nice."

Other pluses: the back of the property offers plenty of room for garages, the building is structurally sound, and there several areas of terrazzo and tile floors and walls made of brick and shiny, subway tile.

Ales expects to build four apartments on the ground floor and seven each on the next three floors.

At four stories tall, the building encompasses 10,000 square feet of space. The first two floors were for dining, activities and offices while the top floors were patient rooms.

Furniture accommodating those uses, including chairs, desks, file cabinets, beds and small dressers remain in the rooms.

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