Baby boomers are generally expected to want to live in retirement homes that offer social connection, purpose, and commitment, all at an affordable price.
A new senior living concept added to a 346-unit Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) Lutheran Homes of South Carolina offers all of the above.
The community is Heritage at Lowman in Chapin, South Carolina; and the project is a pocket neighborhood concept known as The Courtyards at Lowman. With 20 compact homes arranged around a shared green space, the new addition is the latest example of the growing trend of pocket neighborhoods for seniors.
RLPS Architects’ design featured open one- and two-bedroom floor plans designed to let in natural light while making the most of the compact space. The community also has outdoor facilities and a lawn to strengthen social ties between residents.
This helped the avant-garde pocket neighborhood take first place in the “Best Small Footprint” category of the 2021 Senior Housing News Architecture & Design Awards, which was a new addition to this year’s competition.
Planning for The Courtyards at Lowman began in 2018, when Lutheran Homes of South Carolina President and CEO Frank Shepke was studying the small home movement with great interest.
Shepke envisioned a self-contained living addition that would provide both affordability and a sense of community for residents. He also wanted to add a rental component to CCRC to diversify his campus and meet the demand of potential residents. As he looked at different tiny house designs and concepts, something clicked.
“We literally put this on the back of a napkin and kind of sketched it out, and started looking at what it might look like if we were able to pull all these concepts together,” Shepke told Senior Housing News.
Shortly after, the company brought in RLPS Architects to work on the project. The company had been involved in similar pocket neighborhood concepts, including at Rose Villa, a life plan community based in Portland, Oregon, according to partner Eric McRoberts.
From the outset, CCRC and RLPS set out to create a pocket-sized neighborhood that was both mid-market fit while providing privacy and opportunities for residents to mingle in shared spaces.
The project was designed as two pocket neighborhoods consisting of 10 houses each. The two pocket quarters are arranged around a common green space made up of a synthetic turf that stays green all year round and does not require typical lawn maintenance.
One of the first challenges was determining the size of each unit. A typical senior housing unit is between 900 and 1,500 square feet, but designers needed to limit the pocket neighborhood dwellings to a smaller footprint in order to meet project goals.
“The challenge for us as a design team was how to build a smaller unit while making it look bigger than it actually is?” McRoberts said.
To help meet this challenge, RLPS designed the Pocket Neighborhood Units with open floor plans, features that let in natural light, and higher ceilings. Each home was designed with a unique porch overlooking the social area and courtyard as well as a more private back porch where residents can relax. The houses also have varying rooflines to keep them from looking too uniform.
“These had to have some sense of individuality for it to work, so that a potential resident would say, ‘Yeah, that’s my unit right there,'” Shepke said.
Lowman’s courses are also connected to the larger CCRC by trails, and all homes have been designed to have space in the back to store and charge a golf cart.
Construction of the community began in early 2019, with McCrory Construction as the general contractor for the project.
Located near the community wellness center and on a site with difficult elevation, the early stages of the project required “a good piece of land that needed to be moved,” Shepke recalls.
Bad weather and water attenuation was another challenge, as was connecting the walkways to the community at large. And like many other senior living projects underway at this time, the Covid-19 pandemic also posed a significant challenge in 2020, particularly with regard to the supply chain and social distancing on site.
In the end, construction was only slightly delayed, with a completion date of October 2020. But overall construction went and finished smoothly and on budget .
Now open, The Courtyards at Lowman sits at the crossroads between pocket neighborhood and mid-market trends.
One of the Pocket Neighborhood’s selling points is its monthly rental rates, which range between $2,420 and $3,141. To keep rates at a relatively mid-price level, in-stock residential custodial services were used in all accommodation kitchens and bathrooms. In total, the community reached its total project budget of $5 million.
“We were trying to get a price below $150 a square foot,” McRoberts said. “With our first phase, I think we were able to achieve that or come very close to that.”
Pocket quarters also have access to a patio with an outdoor gas fireplace, with a shade sail added between the quarters and existing community spaces. Both neighborhoods additionally have a club room where residents can gather for events or activities.
Residents are also a short distance from The Heritage at Lowman Wellness Center, which features a bistro, fitness center, chapel, and other resident services and amenities.
Pocket quarters were 80% full at the end of the first quarter of 2021, and today they are fully booked with a waiting list.
Gracyn Robinson, a former senior designer at LWDA Design who is a candidate at Brown University for her Master of Science in Healthcare Leadership and one of the judges involved in the SHN Architecture and Design Awards, said the scale of the project was “well-balanced through and through.
“Great attention has been paid to integrating the campus backbone, community gathering and integration, outdoor gathering areas, as well as privacy,” he said. she declared.
The Courtyards at Lowman “hits all the marks for smaller spaces, scale of amenities, privacy, socializing and location,” according to Ric D’Amico, vice president of development at The Belaire Group and a another of the contest judges.
“[It is] an exceptional product that is very ‘now’ in relation to trends,” said D’Amico.
With its first phase complete and fully occupied, Lutheran Homes of South Carolina and RLPS are already planning a second phase with three more 10-home pocket neighborhoods.
“The idea that we were able to do something like this from scratch, on budget and basically from the back of a napkin…was really a testament that senior housing continues to evolve and to improve,” Shepke said.