Construction on an $80 million senior-living project will start soon on the Mount Carmel campus in Dubuque.

Officials from the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Presbyterian Homes and Services celebrated the beginning of their joint project, dubbed Mount Carmel Bluffs, with a ceremonial groundbreaking Thursday morning.

“Every day, (the sisters) watch to see who’s doing what outside, and they look forward to the day when we cut the ribbon on the new facility, and they get to move in,” said BVM President Sister Teri Hadro.

The first phase of the project includes the construction of 40 assisted living apartments, 20 memory care units and 60 long-term-care suites aimed at serving the BVM sisters and members of the community.

A second phase of the project features senior living apartments.

“We’re very excited to be here, very honored to be here,” said Dan Lindh, president of Presbyterian Homes and Services. He added, “We share a faith-based platform and a common outlook on mission and ministry, so we feel like we’re well aligned.”

Work at the site began in May as workers cleared trees and prepared the land for the new building south of the motherhouse, Hadro said. She anticipated the foundation of the building will be laid soon.

Officials expect to move sisters at Mount Carmel into the site in the fall of 2020.

Following the completion of the first phase, the current buildings north of the motherhouse will be deconstructed to create space for about 115 independent senior-living apartments. The motherhouse will be renovated and will remain part of the campus.

Hadro said the project has brought an undercurrent of energy to the sisters.

“I think it’s the opportunity to do what we’ve always done, and that is to welcome others,” she said.

Hadro said she anticipates that Mount Carmel Bluffs eventually will become self-sustaining, noting Presbyterian Homes and Services’ success with other senior housing projects.

“We’re trusting their wisdom and experience, and we’re pretty confident it’s all going to work out,” she said.

Lindh said the services provided will be increasingly needed as the population ages locally and nationally.

More than 200,000 people live in the area from which the facility could potentially draw residents, Lindh said.

According to the State Data Center of Iowa and the Iowa Department on Aging, there were 526,057 people ages 65 and older in Iowa in 2017. That number is expected to grow to 672,273 in 2050.

The project also comes as the average age of the BVM sisters climbs. Hadro told attendees of the groundbreaking that the median age of the 300 sisters in the order is 82.

However, the sisters’ mission still continues, she said.

“Mount Carmel Bluffs will transform the present Mount Carmel, and we BVMs, PHS and our Dubuque neighbors will know this sacred place in new ways,” Hadro said.

Mayor Roy Buol told attendees that he is grateful for the partnership between the two entities to serve the needs of the sisters and area seniors.

“What this project represents is the critical importance of access to housing opportunities for seniors,” he said.

Sister Betty Voss, who recently moved to Mount Carmel, said she feels some sadness and nostalgia for the campus, but she also is excited for what is to come.

“It means to me that God is always a God of surprises, a God of fidelity, a God of caring, and I see that lived out in this project,” Voss said. “I see that lived out in both the BVM (and Presbyterian Homes and Services) aspect. ... It’s very gratifying and peace- producing in the long run.”

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