The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 26, 2010

Remodeling underway at the Ronald McDonald House

By Gina Morton

DANVILLE — All 19 guest rooms at the Ronald McDonald House of Danville are undergoing a makeover, receiving new paint, new carpeting, new tapestries and new furniture — all part of an ongoing $116,000 two-year project. But house officials assure visiting guests the facility will remain open for those looking for a place to stay.

“The renovation comes from a need,” said Mike Turlis, senior house operations manager. “With the amount of individual service comes wear and tear of the rooms. It’s a combination of aesthetics and liability.”

The house has served more than 289,000 guests since its opening in 1981. It’s last remodel was in 2002.

“It’s not a frivolous project, it’s necessary,” Turlis said. “It’s something to meet the safety and comfort of our guests.”

One of only five Ronald McDonald Houses in the state, the Danville location offers a place to sleep, eat and stay for families of children in the pediatric department of any area hospital. Families of oncology patients are the primary focus of the facility, but any patient’s family is welcome when there is an opening.

The facility has housed families from 65 of 67 counties in the state, 33 states and 24 countries.

All rooms are equipped with a phone and answering machine, heating, air conditioning and a private bathroom.

The efficiency apartments also include a TV and kitchen area.

The house has a suggested donation of $15 a night per family — whether it is a family of one or a family of 15 — however no one is turned away if the donation can’t be made.

It’s estimated a room would normally run $180 to $200 per night for the additional food, electric, heat or air conditioning and laundry services available to the families.

“About 58 to 65 percent of families can’t pay the donation,” said Development Manager Ann Blugis. “It really puts a burden on our operation budget.”

“When you walk in, it doesn’t look bad,” Turlis said, entering one of two guest efficiency apartments. But the wear and tear in other rooms, he said, “is very visible.”

Upon close inspection, Turlis showed fraying furniture, carpet stains from continuous foot traffic, broken blinds and curtains and marks on walls.

Questionnaires filled out by guests helped decide the changes, which included individual lights next to beds for reading and individual switches for lights and fans throughout the rooms to avoid extra noise.

Paint colors are now earth tones rather than blues and pinks.

In addition to the guest rooms, carpet will be replaced in an adjacent TV room which is often turned into an additional guest room when others are full.

“We want to use the money where we get the most bang for our buck,” Turlis said.

The $116,142 project was incorporated into the 2010 budget, Blugis said.

“We’ll still raise as much as we can to help,” she said. “The economy in central Pennsylvania is a difficult time for everyone, so we appreciate each and every dollar.”

To be sure the house can remain open for families looking for a place to stay, the renovations will only take place in three rooms at a time.

“We can’t close the doors on families,” Turlis said. “Our plan is to finish late spring or early summer. If we surge in numbers of families, we’ll stop and wait out the need.”

And during the renovations, volunteer services are relied on to help with regular throughout the facility.

“Volunteers are crucial,” said Joan Williams, assistant house operations manager. “We have over 200 volunteers but we always need more; there are never enough.”

Williams said volunteers are of all ages, with the youngest at 14 and the oldest in the late-70s.

All officials agreed the atmosphere is like a home-setting, with pictures on walls, large comfortable furniture for watching movies or reading books and a playground out back. A large living room area sit next to the dining room where tables can be moved around for parents to gather and support each other through conversation.

A sunroom sits to the back of the building with hanging plants, giant windows and chairs for relaxing and taking in the sunshine.

A media room with three computers, television, overstuffed chairs, desk and books sits off from the kitchen which houses various stoves, sinks, dishwashers, cabinets and microwaves. Three washers and dryers sit in the downstairs laundry room.

“It’s more than a bed and bath,” Blugis said, “It’s their home.”