Embers sustains $5+ million in tornado damage

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ The Embers retirement community, 1211 W. State St., sustained an estimated $5+ million in damages due to the tornado. All four buildings on the premises are being gutted and restored by ServiceMaster By Rice, a cleaning and disaster restoration service.

Hearing the sound of the tornado siren echoing through Marshalltown on July 19, the staff at the Embers retirement community immediately implemented its emergency preparedness plan.

“I’ve always told them to listen to the sirens. If you hear them in the city, and then the one we have in-house, you need to pay attention,” executive director Vicki Bogner said. “When the tornado hit, it hit so fast, it imploded our solarium windows. We had debris everywhere. Shortly after that, the electricity went out, and our generator tried to start, but there was a picnic table on the ground in the courtyard (also destroyed) and it was lifted by the tornado, torn apart, and went through the radiator, so we didn’t have a generator. It also lifted all the roofs. We have rubber membrane roofs with rock ballast, so it messed up the alignment.”

Damages are estimated at $5 million to $6 million at the 1211 W. State St. facility.

While none of the facility’s 100 residents were injured, the sea of glass in all four of the complex’s buildings required evacuation of the premises on July 20. All their personal belongings are being kept in outdoor storage pods on the grounds of the premises, as well as in the underground parking garage, labeled by apartment number.

“They’re displaced out of their homes – feeling lost – and I’ve been trying to do what I can so they know we’re still with them. They’re like family,” Bogner said.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO The complex is the former St. Thomas Mercy Hospital, which opened in September 1903 as Marshalltown’s first and only hospital. Commissioned by Father Mathias Lenihan, it was operated by the Sisters of Mercy religious order. In 1969, it was consolidated with the Evangelical Deaconess Home and Hospital (now UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown).

Residents and their families have been invited to biweekly meetings to learn more about the status of the repairs, and view the progress being made.

All residents chose to either stay with friends or family or temporarily take refuge at The Willows Assisted Living and Memory Care, a new facility located at Campbell Drive which had not yet had its official grand opening by the time the tornado came through Marshalltown.

“The night of the tornado, I reached out to whoever I could think of, letting them know we had the capacity to provide shelter for people displaced by the tornado,” Willows President Ben Daniels said. “So we sent out staff to help in any way we could at the Embers. By the end of the first day, 28 of their residents had moved in and close to 40 in a week.”

The Embers sent its staff over to the Willows to care for and provide meals to the displaced residents.

“We brought 13 residents back here on Aug. 19, and they’re back in their apartments with basic necessities,” Bogner said.

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ The courtyard, which once flourished with flowers and greenery, shows extensive damage. A picnic table had been lifted off the ground by the tornado, torn apart and sent flying into the radiator.

ServiceMaster By Rice, a cleaning and disaster restoration service, was brought in the day after the tornado to begin the arduous task of gutting the place. At the height of the efforts, 125 of its employees labored on the grounds at one time.

“It’s a large, complex project with 108 units as well as common areas, tearing out carpets and baseboard, and cleaning every square inch of the property to get the residents back in a safe building,” project manager Patrick Pollard said.

The tornado took out over half of the complex’s windows and all the roofs and ceiling tiles were replaced.

“Because of the glass shards, it was suggested that we tear out all the carpets. We had popcorn ceilings, and so they stripped all those and they’re being re-mudded and all walls being repainted, just to make sure we don’t have any glass penetration in anything,” Bogner said. “We were really lucky. The structure of the building is fine. Our bones are great, it’s all steel studs and concrete floors.”

The Embers, which is a private nonprofit facility, offers independent living apartments. Meals and utilities are included in the rent, but no medical care is provided on-site. The complex is the former St. Thomas Mercy Hospital, which opened in September 1903 as Marshalltown’s first and only hospital. Commissioned by Father Mathias Lenihan, it was operated by the Sisters of Mercy religious order. In 1969, it was consolidated with the Evangelical Deaconess Home and Hospital (now UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown). After the hospital was closed and the complex sat vacant, the facility turned into Friendship West retirement home before becoming the Embers in 1991, undergoing a series of renovations and expansion. Original to the days in which it served as the hospital is the facility’s A Building, chapel, boiler room and dining area.

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ A gutted apartment. All carpet has been removed, popcorn ceilings stripped and walls repainted to ensure no pieces of glass remain.

Bogner said painting all the walls and installing carpet is projected to be finished by Nov. 1, with all windows repaired by the end of that month.

For more information, Bogner may be reached at 641-754-7000.

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or sjordan@timesrepublican.com

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ While none of the facility’s 100 residents were injured, the sea of glass in all four of the complex’s buildings required evacuation of the premises. All their personal belongings are being kept in outdoor storage pods on the grounds, as well as in the underground parking garage, labeled by apartment number.