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  • Jeffrey Anderzhon, FAIA

The Impact Revitalizing Your Community Can Make

Why revitalize your community

With a burgeoning senior age demographic in the US as well as the world, it would seem that any senior living community would not have incentive to revitalize their campus environment. The demand for senior living environments would seemingly outstrip the supply and thus in whatever condition that environment might be should not have an impact on being at capacity. In the end we all know this is a false assumption.

There are continually new senior living products and services introduced into any market area. And it is here that the old saying applies: change is the only constant. Revitalizing your community’s environment, keeping up or even ahead of trends you market seeks and making sure you are telegraph those environmental improvements to you market base will provide benefits in the maintenance of your market competitiveness.

But market competitiveness is not the only reason, or perhaps not even the main reason, for revitalizing the built environment on your campus. Maintaining existing residents and keeping their level of enthusiasm for living on your campus is certainly a forceful reason for undertaking this process. A bland, out-of-date environment can often be the impetus for resident choice to move elsewhere. Even in our own homes, we often change wall color, purchase new furniture and remodel kitchens. It is simply a matter of evolving tastes, trends and desire for some change that fuels the need for environmental modification.

Staff retention is a second excellent reason for revitalization of the built environment of a campus. With a universally shrinking staff pool combined with increasing demand for staff, any opportunity to retain and attract a quality work force should be examined. The revitalization process should seriously consider how it would affect staffing and operational efficiencies. Providing a comfortable, safe and efficient workplace can not only serve to retain your staff, but can be an attractive recruitment tool for new staff.

A revitalization project can be the catalyst for a focused, albeit short-lived, marketing campaign. Whenever there is a construction project, large or small, there is increased interest in that activity, from both existing and potential residents. If that project is coupled with a new or enhanced product or service offering, the interest is increased. Safely providing a periodic “dusty shoes” walk through of the progress of the work can be beneficial in heightening interest and increasing the campus waiting list and ultimately the campus residence census.

Before a revitalization project is undertaken, there needs to be a careful and thoughtful planning process which not only examines the necessary environmental modifications, but also addresses the scheduling, financial and marketing aspects of the project. Retaining experienced designers and consultants is critical to an honest portrayal of this process and the ramifications to the campus of undertaking it.

If new construction is being considered, a good planning process will begin with a well-qualified market study. This study will provide valuable information on the target market demographics indicating the likelihood of marketing success. It should also indicate the economic demographics of the target market and thus provide a milestone for designing the project to that target. Without a good market study, planning for a new product or service is simply a “gut reaction” to the capability of market support for the project. While there is nothing wrong with this “gut reaction,” it is not necessarily a competent resource on which to rely, and most lending institutions would hesitate to provide the funding for projects which do not have good market research.

Good planning for a revitalization project that includes a new environmental component will also include the preparation of a building space program and functional program for those new spaces. It will also include both construction and “soft” costs involved in completion of this work. These costs can be utilized by the financial consultant in the preparation of a financial proforma that includes anticipated operational costs and “fill-up” timing to stabilization. It’s critically important to be as accurate as possible in the preparation of these tools in order to provide a viable picture of the anticipated sources and uses of funds as well as the operational revenues and expenses.

The planning process, regardless of whether it is a new environment adding product or service, or a simple environmental “update,” needs to critically examine the phasing of the work. Construction, even minor construction, can be very disruptive to both residents and operations. Minimizing that disruption while simultaneously maintaining a revenue stream can be the difference between a financially sustainable period of operations or a period which means a significant dip in bottom line dollars.

Working through this front-end planning process is a relatively inexpensive way to model the project and it’s financial and marketing ramifications. Assuming these point to a viable project and the funding for the project has been secured and established, the actual implementation follows. Design and construction documents need to be completed and approved and a constructor, either a general contractor or a construction manager, needs to be selected. Firm pricing, often a guaranteed maximum price, for the work would be received from the constructor. One final step prior to actually putting construction workers on the site would be a reconciliation of the programming documents and financial documents to assure the project is still viable within a framework of changing financial, market or building climates. And of course, the permitting or entitlement process needs to be undertaken, usually by the constructor for building permits and the sponsor for operational licensing.

Starting on the construction of a revitalization project is an additional marketing opportunity, a time when interest and enthusiasm by residents, potential residents, staff, family members and the surrounding community can be encouraged and heightened. The ground-breaking ceremony is a marvelous opportunity for media coverage and attention from the community. Each stage of construction or each completed phase of construction also offers opportunity for media coverage and for resident and community celebratory gatherings. And, of course, the project’s full completion is a time for a gala grand-opening.

All of this work requires an experienced collaborative team. There are pit-falls all along the landscape of a revitalization project and retaining the services of team members who have navigated those pit-falls before will not only expedite the project but will provide a value that is not achievable with the un-experienced professionals. To select that design, marketing and financial team, ask your colleagues who have gone through the process for recommendations. Then call on those professionals and ask the tough questions about their experience, about their process and about their ability to meet the goals you set. Once you have your team in place, be an active participant in the process. It is challenging but it is an enjoyable and rewarding process.

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