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March 5, 2018
Focus: Health Care

Retirement communities focus on amenities as older Mainers look to 'age well'

File Photo / Tim Greenway
File Photo / Tim Greenway
John Wasileski, a developer of retirement communities, is raising the level of amenities offered.
Photos / Courtesy Oceanview
At OceanView, there are amenities like pet friendliness, swim classes and a convertible roof to allow for year-round swimming.

1. Blackstone

Location: Depot Road, Falmouth

Developer: Avesta

Status: Recently completed

Description: 20 existing units in newly renovated 1970s-era building; new addition will have 19; One- and two-bedroom apartments for ages 62 and up and those with disabilities.

Cost: $723 to $1067; 50% to 60% of area median income for affordable units

2. Fox school building

Location: 10 Market Place, Paris

Developer: Avesta

Status: Property recently closed on

Description: 12 700 to 800-square-foot units planned in former school; possible addition with 16 more units

Cost: $400 to $600 based on income

3. Unnamed Avesta proposal

Location: 977 Brighton Ave., Portland

Developer: Avesta

Status: Proposed for Avesta-owned property

Description: 40 units for those 55 and older; 24 reserved for people earning less than 50% of area median income and 10 for people earning less than 60% of the area median income. ($29,000-$35,000)

Cost: Based on income

4. OceanView at Cumberland

Location: 290 Tuttle Road, Cumberland

Developer: Sea Coast Management

Status: Before town boards

Description: Single-family homes for those 55 and older; 50 in first phase, 45-50 in second phase

Cost: Market rate

5. Motherhouse

Location: 605 Stevens Ave., Portland

Developer: Sea Coast Management/Developers Collaborative

Status: Ready to rent by end of year

Description: 88 apartments in the existing building, 66 of which of low or moderate-income renters; second phase to include new building, up to 161 units

Cost: $700-$1,100

6. St. Ignatius Apartments

Location: 6 Saint Ignatius St. Sanford

Developer: DBH Management II (nonprofit run by Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland)

Status: Opened in November

Description: 65 one-bedroom, one studio; low-moderate income units in former school

Cost: Based on income

7. Unnamed Community Housing of Maine proposal

Location: Stevens Common, Winthrop Street, Hallowell

Developer: Community Housing of Maine

Status: Before city boards; tentative completion 2019

Description: 29 units for those 55 and older; 13 studios and one-bedrooms for those with less than 50% of area median income; remaining for less than 60% area median income ($21,700-$29,760); homeless veterans have preference to up to 20% of units.

Cost: Based on income

8. Merici Woods

Location: Former Mount Merici convent, 172 Western Ave., Waterville

Developer: Merici Woods LP

Status: Planning board in November granted 1-year extension

Description: 28 units

Cost: Based on income

A map of 80-acre OceanView at Falmouth shows the evolution of retirement living in Maine.

It opened in the mid-1980s with the Main Lodge — one large building — and 20 duplexes with 800-square-foot apartments.

Next came single-family homes, square footage increasing with the decades. The complex, off Route 9, now has more than 230 units of individual living, 80 assisted-care and 24 memory-care units.

Potential residents want options; they ask about energy efficiency. The newly built Schoolhouse Cottages are a little smaller than the 2,000 square feet of the other most recent addition at the site, but they include amenities like solar panels and sunrooms.

"People say to me, 'Oh, you build assisted living, you build nursing homes.' But it's more complicated than that," says Chris Wasileski, development manager for Sea Coast Management Co., which developed OceanView.

The state's "Plan on Aging 2016-20" says, "As Maine's population ages, there is a greater interest in aging and active retirement, which may delay an older adults' need for physical assistance."

Retirement communities, many offering continuing care, are finding ways to accommodate the desire of the state's population to age well in a place they can call home.

Complexes, from high-end to low-income, are no longer your grandparents' old folks home.

Sea Coast owns OceanView in Falmouth and Highland Green in Topsham. It is also a partner in the Portland project to renovate the former St. Joseph convent into 88 apartments. A 52-house development on Tuttle Road in Cumberland is in the planning stages.

"Thirty years ago, I wouldn't have dreamed of having yoga, tai chi, a bistro, fine dining," says John Wasileski, Chris Wasileski's father and founder and president of Sea Coast.

An evolution in how seniors live

OceanView has evolved over the decades, so people can age in place and stay in their homes, but the home isn't an old farmhouse with a leaking roof and high heating bills.

On a tour of OceanView, Chris Wasileski points out its growth, including the newest project, the 34-apartment renovation to the former Plummer School. The company bought the school and adjacent former Lunt School from Falmouth in 2012. Plummer opened late last year after a $6.5 million renovation and addition. The apartments range from 600 to 1,100 square feet, with rents starting at $1,200.

There's a waiting list for OceanView's sold-out 48-house Schoolhouse Cottages, which were also recently completed.

In the decade he's worked for Sea Coast, Chris Wasileski, 35, has seen a radical change. With past generations, "when they retired, they were retired."

"Baby boomers are telecommuting, they're driving electric cars, they're out there doing things," he says.

OceanView has two electric car charging stations, a bistro cafe, and expanded its fitness room at the request of residents, among other things.

Sense of community

When John Wasileski built OceanView in the early 1980s "it was basically an experiment," to see if Mainers wanted to stay, rather than retire to Arizona or Florida, he says.

But Wasileski was also driven by something more personal. His father had died at 65 of a heart attack, but his mother lived to be 100.

His parents had discussed downsizing, moving into town in Auburn, N.Y., where his father had a dental practice. But his mother resisted — she liked living on Owasco Lake, where she'd raised their five children and had her gardens. It was her home.

"It's a fact of life that most women outlive their husbands," Wasileski says. "My mother lived 36 more years after my father died."

It taught him that people should plan for life as they age. It also taught him that people want to be in a place that feels like home.

Part of the evolution from "old folks home" to the type of retirement communities that Wasileski and others are building in Maine stems from the growing focus on aging in place.

Affordable options

Retirement living is now about gaining a community that will offer social support, as well as helping residents transition to greater care as their health fails.

Low-income and affordable developments, while offering amenities on a much smaller scale, are focused on that, too.

"Years ago, we tended to build garden-style apartments," says Dana Totman, president and CEO of Avesta Housing, northern New England's largest nonprofit housing agency. "People had their own door, they'd park in front, go in and that's it. Now we're purposely building more hotel-type housing, with one general entrance, common mailboxes and laundry area, so there's more traffic flow and more mingling.

"We want them to connect," he says. "More common areas make for more of a sense of community."

Community is one of the things that helps people age in a more healthy way, both physically and mentally.

"At the same time, folks in Maine are very independent," Totman says. Some don't want to mingle. "But there's a fine line between that Yankee independence and depressing isolation, and at some point, some interaction is good for everybody."

Senior housing built near elementary schools has reaped benefits as residents interact with the students, reading to them, for instance.

While those building low-income and affordable housing can't match the amenities at the higher-end complexes, Totman says emphasis is also put on art programs, gardening, cooking classes, community activities and technology, like the availability of wifi for telehealth.

"The more active seniors are, the healthier they are and the longer they live," he says. "In the '70s, '80s and '90s we tended to build [senior housing] in more rural areas, where there was land and it was inexpensive. Now we're more thoughtful of building it where they can walk places."

Attention to comfort and care

In 2015, the percentage of Maine' population that was 65 or older was 19%, and growing faster than in the rest of New England or the country, according to the Plan on Aging. By 2030, projections are that 28% of Mainers will be over 65.

By 2025, the Muskie School of Public Policy estimates, the number of Mainers 85 or older will have grown by 4,000.

In Scarborough last fall, Piper Shores unveiled a $14 million, 43,000-square-foot Holbrook Memory Care and Assisted Living residences. The building includes 30 apartments — 14 for memory care and 16 for assisted living — as well as common rooms and areas for fitness, crafts, cooking, reading and indoor gardening.

It has 160 independent living apartments and 40 cottages, 40 skilled nursing beds and 20 assisted living apartments.

Developers of both the Holbrook center at Piper Shores and Legacy Memory Care at OceanView, and other such facilities, use colors, layouts, lighting and other elements that help those with cognitive issues live longer, more comfortable lives.

As Chris Wasileski stood on the patio at OceanView's Legacy center, he pointed out elements that research showed would have the best effect on residents' memory and comfort.

Even on a gray winter day, it felt cozy and embracing, with shrubbery, benches and birdhouses. Wasileski said even the colors of the patio were researched.

Piper Shores CEO Jim Adamowicz has said that the memory center was necessary to meet the health care needs of residents, but the nature of the care was also important.

"The focus is on health services, but in ways that promote social interaction, promote family interaction," Adamowicz says.

Waiting for a home

Portland-based Avesta received 3,784 requests for affordable housing in 2017. Because of scarce resources and limited turnover, 393 of those requests were fulfilled; 1,594 households were on its waitlist in early February; 35% of those seeking housing were 55 or older.

"A study a couple of years ago said we needed 9,000 more [senior units]," Avesta's Totman says. "That will grow to 15,000 in six years." In 2016, 37% of Maine seniors were low-income.

That year, Maine added 110 units of low-income and affordable housing were added. In 2017, 66 were added, Totman said.

Near Avesta's Brighton Avenue site, Seacoast, in partnership with Developer's Collaborative, is renovating the former St. Joseph convent into 88 units, the majority of which will be affordable.

John Wasileski says use of low-income and historic preservation tax credits will keep rents in the $700 to $1,100 range.

A $15 million bond for senior housing passed by 69% of voters in a 2015 referendum, but has not been released by the state. Each county would get a share, and the focus would be on areas that have access to services and public transportation.

Like the higher-end retirement communities, Totman says, Avesta "has a huge waiting list."

There's a solution to providing more housing for the state's seniors.

"We need to keep building more," he says. "I don't think it's complicated."

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