A $270 million housing project designed for retirees and seniors on the Tempe campus of Arizona State University is set to begin construction this winter.
The 20-story building is being developed by the Medford, Oregon-based Pacific Retirement Services and will house 300 living units.
In a statement, Arizona State University President Michael Crow said the idea of older people living on or near a campus heavily populated with people in their 20s is symbolic of an essential demographic trend: life expectancy in recent years has been all on the increase side.
“We’re living longer, we’re wanting to learn longer, we’re wanting to contribute longer,” said Crow.
“So as part of what we’re doing as a university now, we want to engage in senior living and senior success,” continued Crow, “connecting people who want to continue learning with the university, connecting people who want to be part of our teaching, learning, and discovery environment.”
For Andrew Carle, the founder of a program in senior housing administration at George Mason University, the trend in university housing both on campus and slightly off campus for those who are older than 50 years old is no accident.
“The origin and overwhelming demand is coming directly from seniors who are highly educated and seeking active, intellectually stimulating, and intergenerational retirement environments,” he says.
Current retirees, continues Carle, comprise the parents of Baby Boomers who first entered colleges in the post-World War II years on the legendary G.I. Bill, as well as the Baby Boomers themselves.
The Boomers, officially defined as those who were born between 1946 and 1964, “are not seeking to sit on the front porch in a rocking chair in their retirement,” says Carle. “They also remain extremely loyal to their alma maters, so retiring to the location where they first came of age adds to the interest.”
“We can expect demand for this category of community to grow significantly,” continues Carle, adding that among the Baby Boomers, and even their parents, is a discernible resistance to living in what he calls “elderly islands” that have for years dominated the senior housing landscape.
Those seniors-only enclaves first gained significant traction in the 1950s and 60s and continue to see construction today. But, says Carle, such projects were “wrong then and won’t be accepted moving forward.”
In recent years, new senior housing projects, with an entirely different bent, have gone up near the campuses of the University of California, Cornell University, Indiana University, the University of Florida, and Oberlin College.
Carle says that in order for such projects to really work, they should be located “within at least one mile of core campus facilities, not only to provide convenient access for residents to the campus, but to provide access to students to the community.”
“Both groups are heavily weighted with populations that don’t have cars,” says Carle. “But more importantly, you can’t incorporate the feel and culture of the university if you are out of its primary zone.”
“When I was in college, no one who lived more than a mile off campus felt like they were as connected to the school as those who lived closer,” Carle continues. “It’s the same for the retirement community residents.”
For all of the potential future growth of what are known as “university-based retirement communities,” Carle says it’s an industry not without challenges.
“Senior housing companies are used to serving clients in their 80s in an essentially private pay and fast-moving industry,” says Carle. Universities, on the other hand, he notes “are used to serving clients in their 20s, within large, often public, and slow-moving bureaucracies.”
In order to make both worlds better mesh, Carle suggests that experts or specialists in senior housing administrative should first be brought in.
Construction on the new Arizona State University senior housing facility, known as the Mirabella at ASU, is expected to take around 18 months, with the building’s residential units ready for occupancy by the fall of 2020.
The facility will additionally house around 250 independent living apartments, about 40 private skilled nursing suites and memory-support suites, and an additional 11 assisted-living apartments.
By Garry Boulard
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