With remodeling, new uses, company works to restore neighborhood's pride in historic Aurora hospital
For a quarter-century, the shuttered Copley Memorial Hospital haunted an east-side Aurora residential neighborhood.
Vandals broke its windows and painted graffiti inside and out. Ghost-hunters, squatters and the just-plain curious broke in and roamed its halls. Somebody even dumped a motorboat in the courtyard.
The hospital scared neighborhood children, who became afraid to walk past it on their way to neighboring Bardwell Elementary School.
But the 9-acre site now hums with the positive energy of construction work, as it is reborn as housing for senior citizens, and supportive housing for people with cognitive and developmental disabilities.
With rebirth comes a new name.
"We want to stop talking about it as the 'old Copley,' because it is something different now, and start talking about it as Bloomhaven, which is really what it is," said Patrick Skarr, a spokesman for Fox Valley Developers LLC, the owners. "This is the chance to re-imagine the neighborhood, reconnect this campus with the neighborhood."
Aurora City Hospital opened at Lincoln and Seminary avenues in 1888. Additions were made in 1916, 1932, 1947, 1970 and 1980, and it was renamed along the way, after newspaper publisher Ira Copley, who gave large donations for two of the additions. A dormitory for students of its nursing school was built in 1957. All but the 1980 addition are considered "contributing" elements of the site's history, as Aurora's first (and only) public hospital, according to the National Register of Historic Places. The hospital was put on the register in 2019.
The hospital moved to a new site on Ogden Avenue in 1995.
And so sat an empty 400-bed giant that schooled more than 1,000 nurses and employed hundreds of people at a time -- to be ravaged by trespassers, vandals, water infiltration and time.
"It probably hurt people to see it sitting so long, decrepit," said Jason Konrad, a partner in Fox Valley Developers.
The landmark designation was key to being able to do Bloomhaven, according to Konrad. It enabled the company to receive state and federal historic preservation tax credits for the $128 million-plus project.
But it meant most of the buildings would have to stay, with their outside appearances restored, not changed. And some original configurations and materials in the buildings had to be kept, too -- such as the wide hallways, terrazzo floor tile in some areas, and a former surgical ward in the 1932 portion. Gone, however, are the asbestos, mold and garbage, plus the helicopter pad and the longtime physical plant that supplied the building with heat and water.
New interior walls, plumbing, electricity, heating, ventilation and more are being installed at Bloomhaven. Decades of grime are being removed from outer brick walls. New panes of glass are filling in the windows.
The nurses' dormitory has already been redone and has its new occupant: the East Aurora School District 131 headquarters. Besides renovations, the building was enlarged with an addition.
And on the east edge of the former site, a small park with a playground and a splash pad is up and running.
The sections built in 1916, 1932 and 1947 are becoming the Bardwell Residences, to house senior citizens in independent-living, assisted-living and memory-care units. It will have studio, one- and two-bedroom units.
The independent apartment community for people with developmental disabilities, called Weston Bridges, will be in the 1970 portion. It will have one-bedroom apartments. There also will be medical offices for the public.
The company expects the housing to open in the spring of 2022. It already has several reservations for the senior housing, Konrad said.
"I think this is a great example of repurposing a historical building," Konrad said. He said he can imagine, for example, that an older person who has an adult child with disabilities would like to have that child live in an apartment of their own, with supportive programming, on the same site the parent lives.
Looking out from a sixth-floor window toward downtown Aurora, Skarr reflected on what the hospital was and what it will be.
"This (the view) really cements what an anchor it (Copley Hospital) was," Skarr said. "But in several decades, it hadn't been a positive.
"But what we can really see now is Bloomhaven becoming that anchor of pride, of prosperity, of having a renewed neighborhood, that everyone can really see."