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New St. Bernard Manor rises from Katrina’s wrath

Starting June 1, residents will begin moving into the newly built St. Bernard Manor in Meraux.
    The rebirth of the independent living site is another sign of St. Bernard Parish’s return from Hurricane Katrina, considering the three apartment buildings that once comprised St. Bernard Manor I, II and III – a fixture since the 1980s – were flooded with 12 feet of water from Katrina and put out of commission.
     “It signals growth and that people can come home,” said Deacon Norbert Billiot, on-site manager. “St. Bernard was a close-knit parish, and everybody was family here.” 
The new St. Bernard Manor offers 20 studio and 62 one-bedroom, pet-friendly apartments to seniors age 62 and older and those physically disabled who need an accessible apartment and meet median income requirements.
    Christopher Homes, which manages the property, worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on the $10 million project, first tearing down the former structures on the property, said Deacon Dennis Adams, Christopher Homes executive director. MW Builders began construction began on the new building in October 2011.
    The most noticeable changes in the reconstruction: the entrance shifted to face away from East Judge Perez Drive to accommodate pilings for the five-story, raised building; it has a metal roof; and a raised emergency generator and electrical system.

Upgrades also were secured for the mechanical (HVAC) system, making it a much more energy-efficient property, Adams said. And the new building has improved safety features: fire and alarm systems and security enhancements – such as access by elevator only to the first floor – and  “areas of refuge” with added fire protection near the elevators and in the stairwell where residents gather in case of a fire.
    Residents will marvel at apartments with larger space than their pre-Katrina counterparts – a studio has 400 square feet with the kitchen separated from the rest of the space, and a one-bedroom has 506 square feet, said Wanda Robertson, a clerk at St. Bernard Manor.
    All units have a kitchenette equipped with appliances and now have their own air conditioning and heating systems with a self-adjusting thermostat and emergency pull cords that can alert off-site emergency responders. Eight apartments are fitted with special features for the hearing impaired or those in a wheelchair, such as dual-door viewers, counters, cabinets and doorways accessible to those in a wheelchair.
Nice place to call home
    Christopher Homes offers much more than just independent-living apartments to residents. Deacon Billiot is the full-time, on-sight manager, and Malicia Burns-Gamble is director of community managers. St. Bernard Manor coordinates transportation to doctors’ appointments, grocery shopping and more, has a laundry, security and apartments with emergency pulls.
    “We strive very hard to provide a level of service to our residents as far as transportation, meal programs and service coordination goes,” Deacon Adams said. “We’re not just landlords. We do everything we can to help residents live successfully.”
    Affordable rent that includes water service is a big plus at Christopher Homes properties. Rent is only 30 percent of income, which leaves residents money to live on.
    “We have residents who live on basic Social Security, and their rent could be under $200 a month,” Adams said. And, even though residents pay their utilities, Christopher Homes offers a utility allowance that gives residents a credit toward their rent to pay for utilities.
Long wait over    
    Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the St. Bernard Manor site had 230 units that were fully occupied, Adams said. The storm scattered former residents throughout the metropolitan area. Some remained in the part of the city where they eventually settled after the storm and moved into other Christopher Homes-operated apartments such as Metairie Manor and Rouquette Lodge in Mandeville. But several are returning to their family roots in the parish to live in St. Bernard Manor.
    Several Christopher Homes properties have on-site meals and large activities spaces available. While the main building at St. Bernard Manor is complete, Adams said he is still working with FEMA and HMS Architects, the building designers, to replace the former one-story, multi-purpose building on site that was used for dining, resident activities and meetings. Adams is hopeful construction will be completed by the end of the year.
    Seniors have shown much interest in the 82-unit building, and it is close to being fully rented.
    “Our expectation is that within mid-summer this property will be fully occupied,” Adams said.
    “Applications come in every day,” Billiot said.
    Those interested in St. Bernard Manor can call 227-3313.
    Christine Bordelon can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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