It was a challenging proposition: Turn the worst-selling product on a senior living campus into a space even millennials would be happy to call home. And if that wasn’t enough, the owner was determined the transformation be completed within 24 months—meaning there was no time to request zoning approvals or tear down.

“We were stuck with the building we had, and we had to make it work,” said Amy Carpenter, vice president of SFCS. She was joined by Carie Shingleton, interior designer for SFCS, to share this story of reinvention during their session “Radical Transformation: Turning Tired, Old Product into The Place to Be” at the recent Environments for Aging Expo & Conference held in April in Savannah, Ga.

The building itself also came with plenty of challenges, including 4-foot-11-inch corridors, no elevator, poor lighting, PTACs in every unit for heating and cooling, lack of concrete reinforcement, and a majority of the roof trusses not tied to the structure.

The new vision for the project included 20 high-end independent living (IL) apartments and 40 updated assisted living (AL) units and was guided by the mission to create an environment that would engage residents. The owner looked at market-rate apartments targeting 20- and 30-somethings, prompting them to ask “what if?” “They asked us to show them something they’d never seen in senior living before,” Shingleton said.

The Pennsylvania setting offered a farmhouse, agrarian aesthetic for inspiration, which was presented to residents and prospective residents, along with more modern touches, via visualization boards. This allowed them to indicate likes and dislikes. While younger individuals (65-69) were interested in aesthetic change, older individuals (70-75) were more interested in functionality such as safety and lighting, Shingleton said.

In the end, the team identified a “rustic industrial meets Ritz Carlton” design approach for the interiors. But that still left the building itself to be addressed. The project included the following:

  • Strategic additions were made to eliminate double-loaded corridors.
  • A new elevator was placed at the entrance servicing the AL apartments on levels 1 and 2.
  • A new entry for IL with an elevator servicing IL apartments on levels 3 and 4.
  • An activities room on the first floor with a controlled outdoor space and a sun room on the second floor.
  • A full commercial kitchen on the second floor that serves the level 1 and 2 country kitchens.
  • A tub room for AL bathing, while all units have showers.
  • Enclosed balconies to add square footage.
  • Dedicated IL amenity spaces, or club rooms.

In the end, the AL units were twice the size they previously were, and the IL areas achieved a sense of luxurious elegance. The AL portion was completed in March, and move in will be soon for the IL spaces.

All in all, the $21.5 million project included about 86,000 square feet of renovated space and 9,000 square feet of new, with the two elevators, a four-pipe HVAC system and ventilation, and a new gas service. An additional $500,000 went to furniture, fixtures, and equipment.

The key to completing it all in 24 months? Carpenter said early involvement of the contractor, starting at the schematic design phase, went a long way.