There’s been a major evolution in the design and construction of senior housing. What was formerly a focus on functionality, accessibility and safety has remained essential but not exclusive. Now, senior housing also has to be aesthetically fabulous.
Proof positive of this change is when Daniel Martin, partner with SAS Architects and Planners in Northbrook, Illinois, uses the words “delight and surprise” when describing the renovation and expansion project of Oak Trace senior living community in Downers Grove. Oak Trace is owned and operated by Lifespace Communities.
Two of the three phases of the project, which first launched in 2015, have been completed. The first was the total replacement of the 1970s-era health center with its new upscale Health and Wellness Center. The second phase was the remodeling and refreshing of existing amenity spaces in independent living. The final step, the expansion slated for completion in 2024, is the addition of a new five-story building with luxury independent living apartments and shared clubhouse.
Project Reevaluated and Reimagined with Resident and Depositor Input
When the construction was stalled due to COVID, leadership took that time to reevaluate and reimagine the project’s expansion portion. More feedback was sought by leadership at Lifespace Communities and Oak Trace. The result was that many design elements were implemented based on input and preferences from current and prospective residents of the senior living community. The subsequent plan added amenities, including a state-of-the-art fitness center and swimming pool, balconies on all the apartments, and optimization of natural daylight and open spaces throughout the campus.
Complete internal connectivity to all levels of care in the Life Plan community was integrated into the revised plans. Landscaping features were significantly enhanced. Teska Associates in Evanston are the landscape architect firm partnering on the project
“The idea was very much about providing a jewel for this area,” said Martin. “The redesign was a bold, brave choice. It was a risk. The leadership intellectually saw there was an opportunity during a time of some uncertainty as well as delays during COVID. They took that time to reexamine the project and increase the amenities, and thus its appeal.”
Best In Class
Since the start of the project, what has been consistent has been setting the community’s standards to ‘Best in Class’. This has successfully been achieved in the community’s interior spaces and is now in the enhancements being integrated into the landscaping.
“A major factor in what we’re able to do with landscaping was possible because of the property’s vast acreage. It’s a big site. We didn’t have to compress anything and, in fact, were able to stretch it out quite a bit. The size gave us a big drawing board to create new destinations,” said Martin.
An important element is the elimination of the “vast seas of asphalt, and instead, surrounding the campus with a lot of greenery,” Martin said. “We are creating a landscape to surprise and delight people, with little nodules throughout the community, pods with different themes. We want people to explore the beautiful campus and find their favorite place.”
The choices for people to favor are abundant. “We have stayed on top of trends while bringing our own flair to the designs we’re creating,” said Martin. “The landscape design includes picturesque entryways, a treelined boulevard allowing glimpses of the building, and tree orchards boasting colors and texture. Multiple courtyards scattered throughout vary in size from small and private to large with firepits and space for large gatherings.” There are pathways wrapping around the entire campus.
Distinctive gardens throughout the space include a prairie garden with low-lying vegetation and shrubs, a sensory garden, a wind garden with plants that move majestically in the breeze, and a shade and butterfly garden.
From the beginning and throughout the process, Lifespace and Oak Trace sought to engage the community through design meetings, presentations and surveys, and then, partway through the process, by pausing and reimagining the finished product. “The collaboration gave residents and depositors an important say in the project and impacted what we did with amenities. It has been a very fulfilling process, and we knew this would please future residents and make this feel like their home,” said Martin.
The culmination, he concluded, will be “lovely. There’s a lot of love and a lot of pride invested in this project.”
To learn more about SAS Architects & Planners, visit at www.sasarch.com.