Evanston’s The Mather celebrates new $200 million renovation

Audrey Cheng

Mary Leary, CEO of Mather LifeWays, was all smiles at an opening event Wednesday for The Mather retirement home’s new building.

“It’s kind of like repeating your wedding vow – when you get it right the first time, you’ll want to go back and do it again,” Leary said of being able to open the facility.

Mather LifeWays, a nonprofit founded to serve older citizens, hosted the celebration after the second part of the two-building construction project was completed last fall. The group opened the first building, Continuing Care Retirement Community, at 425-450 Davis St. in October 2009. The two buildings are connected by the Gateway Gallery, an underground corridor decorated with art and items from archives.

In her speech, Leary thanked the people who contributed to the project.

“The saying that it takes a village to raise a child also applies to building a $200 million community of people 62 years of age and older,” Leary said.

She said the building was opened during a struggling economy but that apartment sales have defied the odds.

“We have generated 95 percent of our expected entrance fees for our north building and more than 80 percent sold overall in both buildings,” Leary said. “This building opened just a month ago and we are already 40 percent occupied.”

Roger Lumpp, chair of the Mather LifeWays board, said The Mather has a growing community of satisfied residents but is also trying to help the local economy.

“We have an interesting way of paying back Evanston, by creating hundreds of new jobs,” Lumpp said.

He added Mather LifeWays is frequently presented with opportunities for new projects but is very selective when it comes to deciding which ones to undertake.

“We want to make sure we are able to put a comparable product in a market where it can be successful, where our residents can enjoy their experience with us,” Lumpp said.

There was controversy before the buildings were demolished and rebuilt, said Cheryl Wollin, a former 1st Ward alderman who sat on the city council when The Mather’s renovations were first discussed.

“There’s a huge amount of construction and a small amount of space, so I think there were concerns about the whole process of demolition and construction and traffic and cranes,” Wollin said. “There were some questions about the height of the buildings, and they wanted an underground tunnel.”

Wollin said the new building and program structure addressed the problems of the last building.

“We talked about affordable care,” Wollin said. “They added a component of that to their project as well.”

Reggie Reantaso, the program coordinator of Mather’s on-site care, said the residents at The Mather are able to live the quality of life they desire.

“(Residents at other CCRCs) just live life out by watching movies and basically just vegetating,” Reantaso said. “But here the whole concept really appeals to what they want to do in their life.”

Paul Sichert, a resident of The Mather who moved in six weeks ago, said the staff and residents were very helpful when he arrived after moving from Michigan. The 78-year-old said he chose The Mather because the retirement community is a class-A facility, appearing to have the stability to handle a long-term retirement.

“There’s an attitude of, ‘Let’s make this a pleasant experience for all,'” Sichert said. “That permeates an attitude of the people who live here, from those who enjoy living to the valet and the kitchen staff.”

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