Senior Living Case Study: New Lease On Life - Facility Executive Magazine - Creating Intelligent Buildings

A retirement community in Charlotte, NC expands and renovates to remain market competitive.
A retirement community in Charlotte, NC expands and renovates to remain market competitive.

Senior Living Case Study: New Lease On Life

Senior Living Case Study: New Lease On Life - Facility Executive Magazine - Creating Intelligent Buildings

By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the November 2010 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

senior living expansion facility management Making sure building occupants are comfortable and safe is a crucial part of the job for facility managers (fms). Depending on individual skills, organizational resources, and a variety of other factors, some in the profession are more equipped than others to carry out this mission. At Southminster, a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Charlotte, NC, it has become easier in some ways for Charles Heilig, maintenance director there, to satisfy the demands of the residents as well as fellow staff.

This is because in the fall of 2009 a major overhaul of the 25 acre property was completed—a project that doubled the square footage of Southminster’s buildings to 600,000. This included new apartments, the expansion and reconfiguration of common spaces and amenities, and the relocation of administrative offices. Meanwhile, existing apartments, detached cottages, and hallways were updated with new finishes. Behind the scenes, aspects of the building systems were upgraded.

“It was a busy time,” says Heilig, referring to the two years of construction that occurred on the continually occupied campus. “But the residents love the new spaces. One of the things they really like is that the dining areas and activity spaces are centrally located now.”

senior living expansion facility managementThis centrality was a prime goal of a master planning process for the site that began in 2002. Southminster’s president and executive director, David Lacy, was actively involved in the renovation and expansion, and he had been working with design firm FreemanWhite, also in Charlotte, NC, on the planning and programming of the campus.

Says Lacy, who has headed the senior living community since 1999, “There had only been one major addition to the campus since it was originally built [in 1987], so it was time to do a number of things to remain market competitive.”

As a CCRC accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), Southminster provides living accommodations to meet varying needs of residents, from independent living to hospice. There are cottages, apartments, assisted living facilities, and nursing care units. This organizational structure allows residents to obtain the level of service they require through an open ended contract, and if their health status changes, they can remain in the community comfortably.

As the project designer, Steve Chomick, AIA, director of senior living, principal, FreemanWhite, was one of the people involved in the master planning and had worked with Lacy on previous projects. Speaking about the residential units, he says, “In designing the apartments, we strive for universal design. Then people can age in place, if need be, or if the maintenance department needs to retrofit a unit, it can be easily done.”senior living expansion facility management

Prior to the expansion, Southminster featured 180 independent living units (consisting of apartment and cottages). And though many apartments had been updated and expanded over the years, there was a need to expand some of these to bring them up to prevailing market standards.

There were 89 new apartments built for the project, but since some existing units were combined to create larger options, the final tally was 264. The number of cottages was reduced slightly, because several of those were demolished to make way for other project items. The bed count for assisted living (40) and nursing care (60) was not increased by the project. However, interior finishes in those spaces and adjacent hallways were updated to match the new areas.

Expanded Amenities

As Heilig notes, relocating and consolidating many common spaces was a guiding focus of the project. A main dining room and adjacent living room area were already popular meeting spots for residents. However, some activity spaces were scattered throughout the facility. These amenities—which included an art studio, woodworking shop, computer room, craft area, and a library—were used regularly. However, bringing these spaces together (and adding a few new ones) was aimed at creating a synergy between the activities—and the people partaking in them.

senior living expansion facility managementSpaces that were added included a bar/lounge area (seen at left), a theater, and a state of the art wellness center where residents access fitness equipment and programs. Previously, this exercise resource had a relatively small footprint. Classes and physical therapy were provided, but Lacy and the team wanted to elevate the level of this offering substantially.

The new wellness center houses a swimming pool, jacuzzi, and exercise rooms with the latest equipment. Programs for residents were expanded to keep pace with the physical assets, and Lacy explains staff members were hired to accommodate the updates.

In designing the wellness center and the other common spaces, Chomick recalls, “Bob Romano [FreemanWhite’s project manager at the site] and I spent a lot of time with each resident committee, such as the flower shop and chapel, to get their wish lists. We also met with staff departments to find out what they liked about the existing facility and what they’d like to see added.”

Going Vertical

Southminster is located on a compact site, and the team decided the plan would include a vertical expansion. This also helped to preserve existing green space. To that end, the centerpiece of the updated campus is an eight story tower that tied together two existing three story buildings.

A Chat With Charles Heilig, Maintenance Director, Southminster Continuing Care Retirement Community

senior living expansion facility management

What are your responsibilities at Southminster, and how long have you worked there? I’ve been at Southminster for 10 years, and I take care of all the operations within our 25 acres. That includes overseeing central physical plant operations at the community. I work with our other departments as a team. I oversee the contracts we have for groundskeeping, elevators, and chillers; those are the main areas that we outsource. I really enjoy my job.

What changes have you seen in facility management during your years in the profession? Technology has brought a lot of changes. When it comes to the residents, especially recent ones, I find they’re very up to date on all types of technology. So my staff and I have to stay sharp on the new technology—televisions and recorders, for instance. That’s a challenge, but management has been good about sending us for training to keep up if we need it.

What are you working on now? There are no significant projects planned right now, but we are always looking to find ways we can improve the site. When we refurbish an apartment, we always consider if we need to make significant changes, to the kitchen for instance. It’s an ongoing effort, and our marketing team provides a lot of input for that.

Says Lacy, “The architects did a good job of staging the size of the main building. People had always commented on the comfortable sense of scale of our campus—it didn’t feel overwhelming. We thought this was an important attribute that we didn’t want to lose.”

Many Southminster residents live an active life (some even work), and many keep a car on-site. Accommodating those residents, as well as staff cars, had become a challenge as the community grew. This was addressed with the decision to build a one level parking garage underneath the new facility. This also minimized the distance residents have to walk to reach the building.

Continuity On Campus

Planning for construction included preserving residents’ quality of life and ensuring staff members could perform their jobs effectively. Other than hallway upgrades, the healthcare wing was not significantly modified. It was the independent living areas that experienced the bulk of the changes.

Says Lacy, “The phasing was complex, because we had a live campus with people and programs operating 24 hours a day. Back of house, we were integrating existing building systems into the new. The physical plant crew, led by [Heilig], did a phenomenal job. Also, Rodgers Builders [the construction manager] was selected partly because of its experience working on occupied campuses.”

Heilig says, “It was crucial to keep the residents informed about what was going on throughout the project—when a hallway would be closed off, for example. I worked closely with Rodgers to determine the best times to make changes. Meanwhile, our in-house staff relocated many of the activity areas, which kept all programs in effect throughout construction.”

Occupant safety was also a prime focus, and the Southminster team was also able to rely on the construction management firm to help in that regard. Says Lacy, “Rodgers spent a lot of time making sure it had the right supervisors in place for all the subcontractors, so we always knew that its people were present when the subs were working in occupied spaces.”senior living expansion facility management

Behind The Scenes

In the central plant, it was time to upgrade equipment capabilities. Energy efficiency and upgrades to the HVAC infrastructure to provide capacity for a four pipe system were part of the project. This included adding boilers to serve different areas of the site.

“These [boilers] are located throughout the building, which makes them easier to maintain and operate; they were all together before,” explains Heilig. “Also, the newer boilers are easier to work on and do not take up nearly the space the old equipment did.”

Southminster’s healthcare operation was already equipped with the backup power required for the specific occupancy type, but the team wanted to add redundancies in independent living and common spaces. While residents in independent living don’t have full backup, they are now equipped with hallway lighting. The independent living units now also have emergency backup heat. Lacy explains that the state of North Carolina strongly encourages senior residential facilities to have the ability to provide emergency heating and cooling (heating in particular) to private units.

Pleased with the new plant capabilities, Heilig says, “One challenge has been getting the equipment integrated into our preventive maintenance program and dividing it among the staff. But the technology we added has been a great help.”

Protecting Occupants

With a variety of occupancy types, Southminster’s security is crucial. In addition to upgrading the access control card key system, the way access is handled was changed. Previously, multiple entry points were open to the public during the day; during the night, they were locked but accessible with a key card. Now, the main entrance is the only door open during the day. The rest are locked around the clock, and authorized key card holders can access those doors.senior living expansion facility management

After the new campus layout was complete, the fire department visited to help update emergency plans. “We work very closely with the department,” says Heilig. “In updating our procedures, we learned how to evacuate an eight story building down to a three story building—how to move vertically and horizontally.”

In terms of life safety equipment, an addressable fire alarm system was installed to show staff which alarm has been activated. Heilig comments on this new capability, stating, “In the past, we had to look for the exact location. Now we’ll know exactly where the incident is.”

In original construction, Southminster’s main facility was built as multiple independent fire structures; these elements of segregation were included in the design. So even before the addressable system was installed, an alarm set off in one part of the building did not require the evacuation of other parts. However, the new capability makes it easier to manage alarm events.

Sense Of Community

A year after project completion, Southminster continues to thrive, and Heilig and Lacy agree that is due in large part to the upgrades. A sense of community is integral to the success of a retirement community, states Lacy, and the programs and quality of services delivered play a big part in that. “We are in essence living with our clients 24 hours a day, all year. Some of our residents may live here as long as 25 years. So it’s a very close relationship in that sense,” he says.

Commenting on the feedback from residents—along with their families and friends, Heilig says, “The residents love it. For example, before we had the swimming pool, many would have to leave and go to the YMCA. Now they can just walk down to the pool.”

And Lacy says, “I think the residents that lived here through it felt like even with all the turmoil on the campus it was worth it to get what we were able to accomplish at the end.”

This article was based on interviews with Chomick (, Heilig, and Lacy (

To share your new construction or renovation project, e-mail [email protected]. Past Case Study articles can be found here.


Project Information:


Name Of Facility: Southminster. Type of Facility: Existing. Function of Facility: Continuing care retirement community. Location: Charlotte, NC. Square Footage: 600,000. Budget: $65 million. Construction Timetable: January 2007 to December 2009. Cost Per Square Foot: $162.50. Facility Owner: Southminster, Inc. In-House Facility Manager: Charles Heilig, Southminster maintenance director.  Project Management Team: David Lacy, president and executive director, Southminster; Steve Chomick, project designer, FreemanWhite; Bob Romano, project manager, FreemanWhite. Architect/Electrical Engineer/Mechanical Engineer/Lighting Designer: FreemanWhite. General Contractor/Construction Manager: Rodgers Builders, Inc. Structural Engineer: WGPM. Interior Designer: GMK Associates. Landscape Architect: Landworks Design Group, PA.


Product Information:


Flooring: Flooring Solutions. Carpet: Constantine Commercial, LLC; The Mohawk Group. Acoustics/Sound Masking: Johnson Controls. Security System Components: Johnson Controls. Fire Alarm Components: SimplexGrinnell. Other Safety Equipment: KIDDE; SimplexGrinnell. HVAC Equipment: Carrier Corp. Backup Power Equipment: Generac. Roofing: GAF. Windows: Jeld Wen. Elevators/Escalators: KONE.

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