Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration on Tuesday recommended starting fresh at the Quincy veterans' home beleaguered by Legionnaires' disease, calling for a state-of-the-art facility on the 130-year-old campus costing $190 million to $230 million.
The highly anticipated statement, the result of meetings of two task forces convened by the Republican governor in January, reflects what would be one of the more aggressive capital-construction programs for the state in years.
It also has become a political necessity for Rauner, a first-term governor facing re-election in November and thumped repeatedly in recent months by criticism over the persistence of the pneumonia-like malady. It has claimed the lives of 13 frail residents at the home since 2015 and resulted in four more cases in February.
In addition to the newly constructed residential facility, the plan would put up $15.6 million to replace miles of underground plumbing, some of its decades old, a corroded and capped-off mesh of piping that serves as a host for what's called biofilm — an ideal breeding ground for Legionella bacteria.
"Even though we've done everything that the federal experts have told us to do in terms of ... managing the water, with the complexity of the piping and the density of the biofilm, we haven't been able to eliminate 100 percent" of the problem, Rauner said earlier Tuesday, previewing the report for reporters. "We'll have a new modern facility that has completely new plumbing."
Legionnaires', which is caused by waterborne bacteria inhaled from vapor, has hung on at the 130-year-old campus, located 311 miles (500 kilometers) west of Chicago, despite significant investment by the administration already, including a $6.4 million water treatment plant and a rigorous schedule of disinfection, flushing and filtering.
The cost of the residential building is lower than the $250 million high-range figure estimated in a preliminary report in April , and its current cost-estimate range depends on providing room for 250 to 300 residents.
The report recommends taking the home off Mississipppi River water provided by the city of Quincy, whose warm surface temperatures encourage Legionella growth. A well would be drilled for $3 million to $4.5 million. For as much as $6 million, a nearby, vacant nursing home would be purchased and renovated for backup space.
"I've got the appropriation bill waiting," said Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Cullerton said Tuesday before the report and ready to race the May 31 scheduled legislative adjournment date. "It was important to get it to us as soon as possible because we're sitting with four-and-a-half weeks left in the legislative session."
As much as 65 percent of construction costs could be reimbursed by the federal government, according to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat. The report indicates the new construction could take as long as five years.