Most renovation projects face challenges with bringing outdated facilities up to code or creating more modern and inviting environments. But when Parkview Noble Therapy sought to turn a former funeral home into a new physical rehabilitation center, it faced an even tougher obstacle: changing community perception.

The 8,900-square-foot facility had been part of the Kendallville, Ind., community for several years, so locals knew it as a place of sorrow, says Bill Ledger, architect and project manager at Design Collaborative (Fort Wayne, Ind.). Still, Parkview, which was growing its local presence and needed a larger facility, saw an opportunity to breathe new life into an existing space rather than build from scratch.

“Despite its original use, the [former] funeral home fit Parkview’s needs perfectly,” Ledger says.

In fact, the six-year-old building had most of the required structural elements, such as a working plumbing system, that could be reused. This allowed the project team to focus on how to use design to communicate to neighbors that the building is now a place of healing and strength.

To start, residential-style chandeliers, dark wood baseboards, and crown molding were replaced with a color palette of bright blues and greens, modern lighting fixtures and access to natural daylight, and new flooring.

The refreshed interior complements an updated layout, which was modified to support Parkview’s different programs. For example, a large viewing room became the adult gym, a casket display room (where urns, caskets, memorial plaques, and other related materials were shown) was transformed into a pediatric gym, and the embalming room was converted into an occupational therapy space. Treatment rooms were built in the former hearse garage, and the funeral home’s family lounge was converted into two pediatric treatment rooms. A therapist workstation was created from mortician offices, and a portion of the funeral home’s original foyer was converted into the facility’s check-in area.

Minimal changes to the exterior involved replacing the signage and adding a glass vestibule to create a more welcoming entry.

“Whenever possible, our team used the existing structure of the building rather than pursuing complex renovation methods,” Ledger says. “The strategy of removing elements such as outdated crown molding and baseboards often made more impact than adding elements.” The less-is-more strategy resulted in a project cost of $59 per square foot.

In addition, the facility was modernized with specialized equipment in the gym that helps staff monitor patients’ conditions as they exercise. New network and data cabling was also added to connect the facility to Parkview’s electronic medical record retrieval system.

“These elements transformed a very outdated building into a modern medical facility,” Ledger says.

It’s also been accepted by the community, says Julie Desper, rehabilitation manager at Parkview Noble.

“When we first moved in, many of our patients wanted tours,” she says. “I think they wanted to make sure that it still didn't contain all the items that were in the old funeral home.”

Desper says new patients calling for directions still ask if Parkview is located in “the old funeral home,” but it hasn’t stopped anyone from coming. “Everyone always remarks on the beauty of the building and how impressive it is that it was refurbished,” she says.