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Crafting a new formula for senior housing

Daily Journal of Commerce

February 26th 2016

An ongoing expansion and renovation of the Rose Villa senior community in Milwaukie includes a new building with residential units over ground-floor retail space. As the Baby Boom generation enters its golden years, builders and designers are banking on mixed-use formats in the senior housing sector. (Sam Tenney/DJC)

A generation that has always preferred doing things its own way has started to change senior housing.

Or so say many professionals in the design and construction sectors. A number of firms in the Portland area, including builders like R&H, Perlo and LCG Pence as well as designers like Ankrom Moisan, Myhre Group and LRS, have made senior living a central focus.

R&H is working on four such projects in Oregon - Mary's Woods in Lake Oswego, Rose Villa in Milwaukie, Cedar Sinai Park in Portland and Dallas Retirement Village in Dallas. The firm is predicting that the future of assisted living will hold more single-floor layouts, highly customizable design and feature options, and further renovations, according to R&H principal Norm Dowty.

"We've been in senior housing for some time now, and it continues to be a strong market," he said.

Bob Boileau of Myhre Group Architects said senior housing is a good fit for the firm because it incorporates Myhre Group's other core competencies: mixed use, interiors and hospitality.

People entering retirement communities these days tend to want the same things their grandkids want, Boileau said. That's why the pool has a slide.

"We want them to know what health services we provide, but that's not what sells," he said. "It's the active stuff, and contributing to a neighborhood. And there's a pent-up demand for this. It's what a lot of people are looking for."

Rose Villa is perhaps the biggest senior living facility going up in the Portland area. It is one level, with "pocket-style" units and fun amenities as well as shops and restaurants that face outward, not in. Housing options are also highly customizable.

In general, Rose Villa was intended to feel more small-town and pedestrian-friendly, Rose Villa CEO Vassar Byrd said.

"But the difference is just that we are also on a campus where we also have pretty intensive health care options, so as they get older, people don't have to face the incredible disruption or chaos of trying to find a nursing home when they're already sick," she said. "We have really transformed from what was once called a retirement community to more of a mixed-use community designed to serve people as they age."

Part of the problem with traditional retirement homes is what Byrd calls an "institutional imperative." Care facilities for older people have been perceived as cold, sterile buildings resembling medical offices where rules must be followed and the management is in charge. More and more new residents enter Rose Villa with different expectations.

"The baby boomers - they're not like my grandparents," Byrd said. "The folks coming online today are used to getting their own way. They understand consumer activism, to getting all the information they are entitled to. You need to partner with them in a serious way."

The Mary's Woods nonprofit continuing care facility was established by an order of nuns - the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary - who still sponsor the home and live there. Because of the sisters' longtime residency in the area (they established an academy here in 1859), they view time differently than other developers, said architect Laurie Linville-Gregston, the project manager for Ankrom Moisan Architects.

The expansion added 200 units for individual living and a 40,000-square-foot commons area with natatorium, dining room, kitchen and administrative space. The facility was occupied throughout the renovation, presenting further difficulties for crews. The project was first proposed in 2003, but given the sisters' deliberative decision-making - and the Great Recession - numerous revisions were required.

"Their process is a little slow," said George Signori, an Ankrom Moisan senior associate. "But when the economy crashed, they were glad they hadn't started yet. And it sat until the sun started shining again."

Ankrom Moisan designed the tower-style Mirabella in the South Waterfront District. It has more of an urban feel, Linville-Gregston said. But Mary's Woods was designed to incorporate its tranquil natural surroundings.

With a retail component, Mary's Woods is also mixed use, like a lot of new assisted living. The shops serving food and drinks cater to drivers of nearby Oregon Route 43. Designers sought to better integrate the campus with its surrounding community, as well as with nature, Signori said. In traditional retirement homes, one enters a closed system without a need to leave.

"This one was intended to be a little more forward-thinking," he said. "Well, actually, it's backward-thinking - this is the way they used to do it in the old days."