LeadingAge Magazine · January-February 2019 • Volume 09 • Number 01

Making Your Campus a Community Resource

January 18, 2019 | by Mark Crawford

Determined to engage their surrounding communities, many providers are designing new construction with significant public-access options, or reimagining existing campus features.

To enrich the quality of life for their residents, many senior living campuses strive to engage their surrounding communities.

Using existing space to offer programming for both residents and the community is the easiest way to do this. However, with more planning, an existing space can be modified, or a new physical space added, to deepen interactions. This requires careful planning, commitment from the board, and investment of resources. Considerations include how to maintain resident privacy and security, interior design, furnishings, maintenance, and insurance and liability issues.

Below are 4 examples of LeadingAge members using physical space in creative ways to enhance the lives of their residents and the surrounding community.

From Farm to Table

Aldersgate is a life plan community located on 231 acres of green space in Charlotte, NC. Its new commons area, which opened in December 2017, was intentionally designed by architects outside the senior living field, to make it more interesting and welcoming to the community.

“Our community space is filled with light, open space, and comfortable seating areas designed for encouraging socialization,” says Brooks Shelley, director of marketing and brand strategy for Aldersgate. “These areas benefit the communities and organizations with whom we partner by allowing meeting space, gathering space, and a general sense of ‘home.’ Our elders benefit from increased opportunities for socialization and volunteerism through exposure to these opportunities.”

Aldersgate photo
At Aldersgate, the Wintergarden in the commons area is a gathering place that leads to the pub, café, coffee shop, fine dining, salon and spa, billiard room, and more. It was designed with community access in mind.


Another creative use of space is the $3 million “urban farm” project. Aldersgate donated 6.7 acres of land (through a lease with Carolina Farm Trust at a cost of $1 annually over the next decade) to create a working farm that includes an aquaponics garden, fruit trees, vegetable gardens, and beehives. Residents and community members can work together to create an engagement hub for the community and its neighbors.

“This is not only an opportunity to serve the larger community with fresh food, which everybody deserves, but also a great way for our elders to be engaged in a different way,” says Aldersgate president and CEO Suzanne Pugh.

Interior Parks Create Connectivity

San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living (SFCJL) has been serving elders in the Bay Area for almost 150 years. Throughout its history, the organization, once known as Jewish Home of San Francisco, has sought to connect with both the local community and the greater Bay Area community. This mission continues with its new Lynne & Roy M. Frank Residences.

Frank Residences
San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living’s new Lynne & Roy M. Frank Residences will include a pharmacy, health club, Jewish education center, and a courtyard café. It will include 3 interior parks and provide access to the larger community beyond the campus. Rendering courtesy of SFCJL.


“What our research and decades of experience shows is that older adults do better when there are opportunities for multigenerational and multicultural experiences close at hand to where they live,” says Staci Chang, director of sales and marketing for SFCJL.

Designed around three interior parks, the Frank Residences allow for easy access to the amenities, services, and support for residents, while also providing inviting access to the larger community beyond the campus. The plan allows for gradual discovery of each new park setting, creating an intimate feel to the design. From the Frank Residences, glass walls open to the various components of the parks, as well as Byer Square—a 45,000-square-foot building that houses a pharmacy, health club, Jewish education center, and a courtyard café. Multiple access points are available to residents and staff at the campus, while the community accesses Byer Square from beautifully landscaped external entry points.

“We worked closely with our architectural team to first capture what was feasible on the land we had available,” says Chang. “From there, the process involved focus groups to gather input from many stakeholders—including the community around our existing campus—to develop a truly unique and vibrant place for older adults, their families, caregivers, and the community to utilize and enjoy.”

Wellness for All

To create a deeper bond with its surrounding community, Clark-Lindsey Village in Urbana, IL, opened a wellness center in May 2018. Designed for use by residents and community members, it includes a pool, a fitness center, and a massage therapy facility.

Resident security and privacy were the most important aspects in designing the space for public access. “We built the center at the front of the building, close to existing parking,” states Deb Reardanz, Clark-Lindsey president and CEO. “Wellness-center members pass by the front desk and are issued a key fob that is programmed to limit their access to certain spaces and certain times.”

Jerry Walleck, an architect with Perkins Eastman in Chicago, helped design the project.

“The glass exterior of the aquatics pavilion provides a transparency and openness, while the pattern on the glass provides privacy screening and also evokes the importance of nature and biophilia to the organization,” says Walleck. “Within a building, our design layout provides opportunities for private and public spaces. For example, a hospitality-inspired public area placed at the entrance could include a lively bar, lounge, or café.”

This is the first time Clark-Lindsey has offered memberships to nonresidents. The wellness center currently has 200 members.

“The additional membership revenue has allowed us to hire a new fitness coordinator, who in turn introduced multilevel classes that appeal to people across a wide range of physical abilities,” says Reardanz. “We are now doing a better job of supporting residents’ wellness goals, regardless of age or ability.”

Commercial Space and Community

Mercy Housing
Mercy Housing’s Mission Creek affordable senior housing
community in San Francisco integrates itself with the
surrounding neighborhood by including an onsite public
library, a café, commercial retail space, meeting spaces that
neighborhood groups can use, and health care facilities.
Photo courtesy of Mercy Housing.

Mercy Housing, an affordable housing nonprofit headquartered in Denver, CO, doesn’t just build homes. “We build communities, and this concept is the lens we use to find prospective developments, and also guides our design process,” states Kate Peterson, vice president of marketing and communications for Mercy Housing. “An interchange of activity and engagement is essential for our housing’s success in a community.”

Each property is fine-tuned to the respective community, including access and interior and exterior designs. A good example is Mission Creek in San Francisco. This community engages with the space directly through an onsite public library. The ground floor has commercial retail space, a café, and a dry cleaner where Mission Creek and neighborhood residents interact naturally throughout the day. Canopies and arcades coupled with entrances provide easy access to transit in a way that’s compatible with neighboring market-rate housing and retail. Community organizations use a third-floor meeting space which results in beneficial resident-neighbor interactions.

Mission Creek also has health care facilities onsite. “This supports Mercy Housing residents’ long-term health, and consequently the city’s, specifically when those residents have experienced chronic homelessness,” says Peterson. “All these assets have made Mission Creek widely successful for both residents and the surrounding neighborhood.”

The Value of Community

The value of community interaction is multilayered, according to Chang. “We can serve more people, seniors, and their families and caregivers,” she says. “We can create a sense of place for those to whom we provide care and services. It is through these programs and services that our bond with the community continues to expand.”

Reardanz is looking for ways Clark-Lindsey can incorporate more public accessibility into its buildings, both existing and planned. Every project under consideration is being evaluated in terms of how it enhances the spirit of community, both inside and outside its walls.

“Our mission of ‘engaging the mind, spirit, and body in wellness and community so that older adults may thrive’ is not limited to the residents who reside on our campus,” she states. “Sense of community is enriched by creating deeper bonds with people outside of the immediate campus and it is vitally important supplement that diversity.”

Mark Crawford is a writer who lives in Madison, WI.