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Code issue delays move-in date for new building in Zelienople retirement community

| Saturday, June 14, 2014, 5:45 p.m.

A few residents of the new Abundant Life Center at Passavant Retirement Community in Zelienople will move in June 23, but most will have to wait several more months while sprinklers are installed in the building's attic.

Passavant officials blame the delay on a “code interpretation issue” between state and federal officials.

The state Department of Health approved initial building plans that didn't contain sprinklers in the attic of the building.

Federal authorities said later that attic sprinklers are required.

“It is my understanding that the plans submitted did not reflect exactly what was seen on site. Therefore, the facility was not in full compliance, and occupancy was not granted,” health department spokesman Wesley Culp said.

He did not provide additional details.

Passavant Executive Director Laura Roy said the final building did not deviate from the plans submitted to the state.

She did not say how much it would cost to add the sprinklers.

She hoped the work could be done by the end of September.

In the meantime, she said, residents who were to be transferred from the Olde Main building will remain there until an occupancy permit is issued for the life center.

Assisted living patients can move in because their quarters, which have sprinklers, fall under a different safety code, Roy said.

“We'll be operating two buildings,” she said.

Passavant officials learned in May that the three-story Abundant Life Center — housing 34 personal care apartments and 102 nursing beds, along with a conference center and other amenities — needed sprinklers in the attic.

Roy said the facility must abide by federal and state regulations because it accepts Medicare and Medicaid payments.

Before construction began in September 2011, the state Department of Health approved plans, Roy said.

It also falls under federal oversight from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

According to an agency spokeswoman, it is up to state departments of health to enforce the federal regulation.

“It's not that we did anything wrong,” Roy said.

“We did everything we could to obtain the necessary approvals.”

Roy said the attic is sealed off and not in use.

In the rest of the building, “every square inch of the building has sprinklers,” she added.

Passavant officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony June 4, despite knowing that most residents would not be able to move in soon.

“A lot of energy and effort have gone into that building,” Roy said of the $57 million project.

“We wanted to honor the work that had been done, and honor the excitement and passions of those residents.”

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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