From the Front Lines: Preserving the Past While Razing a 70-Year-Old CCRC

From the Front Lines is a new Q&A series from Senior Housing News. Our aim is to get out of the C-suite from time to time to focus on some of the interesting and dynamic people who work at the forefront of the senior living industry. Have a colleague who does something cool and works in a senior living community? Drop us a line.

Residents at The Culpeper—a LifeSpire of Virginia continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Culpeper, Virginia—will soon bid adieu to their longtime home.

Workers broke ground last May on a new building that will eventually offer current residents larger living spaces, more modern dining facilities, a state-of-the-art fitness center, upscale amenities and a brand-new memory care neighborhood. Though the start of the $33 million construction project marked an exciting time for the regional senior care provider, it was also slightly bittersweet.


That’s because, in order to open the brand-new community, workers will also eventually have to tear down the building that older adults have called home for nearly 70 years. And while the new building is necessary in LifeSpire’s view, razing a structure so steeped in history is no easy feat.

Senior Housing News caught up with Jim Jacobsen, The Culpeper’s executive director, to learn how the community worked with its residents and the surrounding town to preserve the history of the original building, even while planning for its demolition.


SHN: Describe The Culpeper as it stands today.

Jim Jacobsen: The Culpeper is a continuing care retirement community located in Culpeper, Virginia. The community was formerly known as the Culpeper Baptist Retirement Community up until 2016, when we went through a rebranding exercise and changed our name to The Culpeper. Many years ago, the Culpeper Baptist Retirement Community only provided admission to Baptists, though that’s certainly not the case any longer.

We were also called, up until 2016, Virginia Baptist Homes. We decided to change our corporation’s name to LifeSpire of Virginia for the same reasons.

This is our ancestral home that was built in the 1950s. It started, really, back in the 1930s with the vision of Dr. J.T. Edwards. He was the pastor of the Culpeper Baptist Church, and he had this vision of building a faith-based ministry and home for senior adults.

It started in downtown Culpeper. There was a historic home called the Millman House. The Millman House was donated to the Virginia Baptist Homes for the Aged, which is what it was called back then, to provide care for a small group of people. J.T. Edwards ultimately opened up the first community, the Culpeper Baptist Retirement Community, in 1951. We have been in existence ever since.

Today, we are a non-profit, faith-based community that’s owned and operated by Lifespire of Virginia, which operates four life plan communities throughout Virginia. Currently, we have 27 individual cottages that are on our campus. We’ve got 37 skilled nursing, and about 60 assisted living residences currently on the site within the main building.

What is The Culpeper’s connection to the local community?

We are in a small community in the county and town of Culpeper, and we are the only retirement community here. Having been in existence for so many years, we have residents that live here today that say their parents lived here. There’s many cases of that over the years. The staff also work with residents today who were their educators or their pastors.

Probably our number one way of filling our residences is word of mouth. We’re right on a main highway, Highway 15. It comes off of Highway 29, which runs between Charlottesville and Northern Virginia. We’re about 90 miles from Washington D.C. Our community is just off Highway 29 and gets a lot of traffic, so folks have known about us for many, many years.

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With all that history in mind, why did you decide you needed to raze the original building and construct something new?

We knew this old building, built almost 70 years ago, was not built to today’s standards [with respect to] building codes, fire safety codes and life safety codes. And the demand for larger residences, greater amenities, and services, those things continue to increase.

We had studies that determined that, just to bring the existing building up to code, it was going to cost a minimum of $15 million. That didn’t take away the fact that the rooms were still small, the stairwells were small, the amenities weren’t there. The overall goal was to provide residents with larger residences, private baths, private showers. So, on top of [the $15 million renovations], we’d have to do all those things.

We got to looking at it and said, because of all of those things, our product that we have had here for 70 years was challenging to market to today’s seniors. This community became a market-driven product. It had created some financial difficulties for this campus, based on the fact that we had to become the value-driven retirement community in the region.

Many of the residents today love the original building, and it’s a beautiful building. But we’ve kind of outlived it. It was time to build for the future. Our legacy and our history served well here for 70 years, but if we’re going to continue to be successful for the next 70 years, we had to do something. That’s why we designed and implemented a program to develop a brand-new structure.

What are LifeSpire’s plans for the new building?

We brought on a team of industry leaders. We recruited Greenbrier company out of Texas and THW out of Atlanta, Georgia. Their focus is on senior housing within the country.

It’s going to be a replacement for the existing building. We will develop 54 residential apartments licensed as assisted living. We’ve got 47 skilled nursing residences, 16 of which will be dedicated for short-term rehab. We’re also developing a 32-unit memory care neighborhood. That will have dedicated courtyards and outdoor living spaces and just be something that is really not available here in Culpeper.

We’ll be the only memory care facility in Culpeper county. There’s a great need for that here in our region.

What is the timeline for the project?

It’s an 18-month project, we broke ground in May of 2017. We’re planning to have it completed probably around February 2019. Then, there will be the transition of getting all of our residents from the existing building into the new building. That’s another positive with this project, we didn’t have to disrupt our resident population because they all will continue to live in the existing building while the new building is being built.

Then, we will have an opportunity to pretty much clear out this old building. There will be furniture and fixtures, that do not come with us. That process could take 30 to 60 days, and then the razing will begin shortly thereafter that.

How will you help preserve the history of the original building?

As we met with our county planning commission, board of supervisors and our residents, it was certainly important for all of us to preserve the integrity of this beautiful building.

One of the first things the architects did was preserve the appearance of the original building. It’s going to resemble the original building. The architects are going to use some of the existing brick within the interior design of the new building. For example, in our front reception welcoming area, we’re going to have an entire wall that’s going to be made of the existing brick with our logo.

The stained glass, much of that was donated by J.T. Edwards and the Millman family. The stained glass has engraved plaques in them. They will be restored and incorporated into the new design. We’re also going to preserve the beauty of the original campus. The architects were able to take that new building design and flip it so it’s facing the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Those are a few things we’re doing to preserve the legacy. There’s also some antiques and beautiful furnishings that were donated from the original Millman house and things donated over the years that were important to the residents.

Those plans include a “heritage wall,” right?

Our interior designers and architects and I got together, and we said, there’s so much memorabilia, so many old photographs here in the building. We wanted to bring that over to the new building so we can never forget where we came from, never forget our culture and our values. That vision of J.T. Edwards, we need to instill that in the new building.

So, we’re creating this heritage wall that will provide an opportunity to have things like stained glass and all the old photographs. We’ll bring over all the old bricks and some of the millwork and other interior features and display those, too. We’ve got a big copper plaque at the front door with resident names and board member names and builder names. We’re going to clean that up, polish it, and it’s going to be in that new heritage hallway.

We don’t ever want our residents or the community to forget where it all started and what our vision, values, and mission are. That’s what the heritage wall is about.

How did residents and the local community react when you first told them about the plan to tear down the original building? Was anyone skeptical?

The answer is yes, because it had been here for so long. Many residents and families wanted to know why. Once we explained the many reasons why it made sense to build new, folks accepted that. We all agree we’re going to be sad the day we raze the building. We know that the existing building served residents of the past 70 years, and if we’re going to continue to have the success that we’ve had, we’re going to build a new structure for the next generation of seniors. They accept and agree with that.

We continue to have resident town hall meetings. We had our interior design folks, and I got residents involved in showing them what the interior designs might look like. We’ve got sample chairs for the dining room and we’re getting resident feedback. We let them see what choices are available for different granites and finishes.

They’re excited about it now, but certainly, that was a big concern of mine, how it was going to go over. I believe now I’ve got nobody standing at the door or beating it down shouting, why? Folks are enthusiastic and excited and looking forward to the new development.

Will it be hard to see the old building torn down?

I’ve been with LifeSpire for 27 years. And I’ve seen the building for 27 years now, and our residents have seen it for longer than I have. Many of them grew up here in Culpeper and know it very well. It will be sad.

We had a family member who was visiting her mom and dad, and she remembered years ago, her dad was a local dentist, and he would come here to the community to make house calls for dental work. She would come with her dad to visit, and they would go to the dining room to eat. She just raved about how great she remembers, as a child, coming and eating in the dining room, and what this building meant to her as a child.

Now her dad—he and his wife—are residents here. There’s a lot of stories like that, where those folks and other folks like that will have a hard time watching the building get razed.

This interview was edited for clarity and length.

Read previous From the Front Lines interviews:

Fine Dining a Focus for The Clare’s Executive Chef

Braving Alaskan Winters in Assisted Living

LCS’ Equestrian Executive Director

Meet Brookdale’s Competitive Chef

Written by Tim Regan

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