BRENTWOOD — The Rockingham County Rehabilitation and Nursing Center recently underwent a renovation.

Administrator Steve Woods said he wanted his short-term guests to feel as at-home as his long-term residents. A remodeled short-term wing with new amenities are making sure temporary and permanent residents have what they need to thrive while they heal, and those who care for them can also thrive.

The county has always made its facilities available for short-term guests in need of rest or rehabilitation, Woods said. With a long-term facility to be proud of, he recently set out to enhance services for a short-term stay.

"We wanted to enhance our services in physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy," he said. "We set up an area downstairs for more services."

The facility hadn't had any renovations in a long time, so Woods approached the three county commissioners about improvements to the second-floor short-term unit in the Fernald Building. "We needed their support to move forward," he said.

Commissioners Kevin St. James, Thomas Tombarello and chairman Kevin Coyle gave their blessing. The project cost was $12 million, but the county only bonded for $3 million as it already had $9 million set aside for building projects, he said. Woods and his team also received approval from the county delegation, he said.

The county awarded the bid to Milestone Engineering and Warren Street Architects, both of Concord. Woods worked closely with Jude Gates, the county's director of engineering, maintenance and IT, to fulfill his vision.

"She took my vision and interpreted it into real construction," Woods said of Gates.

Accessibility for family and friends was key, he said. "We stood downstairs and asked ourselves, 'Could you get from here to the second floor of Fernald?'" The question resulted in the creation of the "Singer Entrance," named for medical director Karl Singer.

The renovation included the staff gym on the ground floor, a new residents' beauty salon, renovation of the short-term stay unit and a new Water Tower Café serving hot food, beverages, packaged sandwiches and salads and desserts.

"It's not just for staff, but for family members needing a bite to eat and for other visitors such as hospice workers," he said.

The short-term care unit in the Fernald Building needed a lot of love, according to Woods. "We gutted it and rebuilt it from scratch," he said. "There were actually some four-bed wards without bathrooms. According to code, we couldn't build those again if we wanted to."

The units were a holdover from the early days when the facility was the Mitchell Memorial Hospital, he said.

The renovation converted shared rooms into private rooms, each with a private bath and decorated in soothing tones of blue and gray. Large windows look out on the county grounds, and Woods said he is especially proud of one end unit from which a short-term resident could watch the July 4 fireworks.

The private rooms have whiteboards as seen in hospital rooms so the guest, staff or a family member can have ready access to their nurse, therapist and goals. Each room has a table and chairs, so the guest can eat in their room if they don't want to dine in the dayroom. They are presented menus and can order from the Water Tower Café, he said. The dining area also has a "serveries" so they can order hot fresh food from the kitchen.

There was already a "therapy gym" for short-term residents on the ground floor, Woods said, but another smaller one was added to the short-term unit.

A living room boasts a big-screen TV, couches, tables and chairs for puzzle-making and card games and two desktop computers. There's a state-of-the-art nursing station, a nursing supervisor's office with two desks and a conference room where families and staff can discuss a guest's care.

Woods and his design team commissioned Epping photographer Charles Cormier to take black-and-white pictures of special Seacoast sites, such as the Ioka Theater marquee in Exeter, the Kingston Bandstand, Prescott Park in Portsmouth and a Newmarket street scene featuring Marelli's Fruit and Real Estate.

Woods said lessons learned from the renovation will help as a long-term unit on the same floor is being renovated in a similar design, and he expects the amenities to extend to all his long-term guests. The plan calls for renovating two 54-bed units, or rooms for 108 guests, he said. The short-term unit can house up to 18 guests.

"The construction is amazing," said Donna Roe, the facility's nurse practitioner. "It's like a hotel."

In her short-term care room, Marie Romano of Kingston relaxed over a card game with her husband. She's been in for rehab for two weeks and expects to be in for three weeks longer, she said. Romano described the renovated unit as "beautiful," but said her favorite aspect of her stay was "The staff!"