Veterans home 20-unit expansion to open on West Union Street in Pittsfield

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PITTSFIELD — An inoperative .30-caliber gun from World War I sits in a display case beneath a television.

Prints of Norman Rockwell's "Four Freedoms" hang on the wall of the nearly finished building.

The scene is the nearly finished, 20-unit expansion to Side by Side, a home for aging veterans on West Union Street.

The growing Pittsfield company was founded in 1984 and purchased by current owners Steven and Yvonne D'Antonio in 2003. Once the newest addition is complete, there will be 76 residential units in the six-building campus at the corner of Onota and West Union streets.

The couple said the campus currently has 56 residents, and that number will increase after the expected move-in day next month. Some 15 of the new units are already spoken for, they said.

"I'm sure it will fill up very quickly," said Emilie Papa, Side by Side's executive director.

They knocked down a four-family house and built the 15,000-square-foot facility in its place, Steven D'Antonio said. Construction began last October and cost the couple about $2.2 million.

"There's a tremendous need," he said.

Most of the units are assisted living, meaning members of the 20-person staff help with things like meals, bathing, grooming, laundry, medication management and transportation. The new facility on West Union Street has an exercise room, a barber shop and a recreation hall, where residents can play pool, shuffleboard and air hockey.

The company adjusts price according to what the veterans can afford, its leaders said, but the average unit costs between $2,400 and $3,000 a month. That rate is all-inclusive, meaning it covers the costs of all the services provided at the home.

Steven D'Antonio said there's a lot of back and forth between them and the residents about what is affordable. "We try to make it work," he said.

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Facilities like theirs ultimately help senior veterans and their spouses avoid nursing homes. "It's a quality of life issue," he said.

It makes good sense for seniors to stay in their own home as long as it is safe to do so, he said.

"Nobody wants to come to us. You come to us because you have to," he said. "But we try to make it as palatable as we can."

To that end, he said, he and the architects spent time ensuring the dining area, with rustic wooden tabletops and hanging light fixtures, was a place people wanted to spend time in.

"Generally speaking, this is going to be the hub of activity," he said, gesturing around the room on Monday.

The couple, both retired police officers from the New York City Police Department's aviation unit, have now added 40 units to the facility since they bought it in 2003. Steven said he himself served two years in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.

Before retiring and moving to the Berkshires, the couple managed 600 apartments in Brooklyn. Steven said he couldn't walk through one of his buildings on a Saturday without getting fed breakfast a half-dozen times.

They will continue to grow their campus, he said, "if the need is there."

He said the work is all about relationships.

"If you trust us with your loved one, we don't need a security deposit," he said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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