Developers Gain Upside with Senior Living, University Tie-Ins

University partnerships have long garnered interest among senior housing developers, driven by a built-in intergenerational component, availability of land and the opportunity to establish shared synergies between communities and the schools.

As this trend develops, these joint ventures are bringing senior housing communities closer to the central campus, laying the groundwork to creating tomorrow’s intergenerational living. And more universities are taking the reins in making these partnerships happen.

Driven by alumni demand

Colleges now recognize that senior housing, at its foundation, is rooted in residential housing and the main difference is the age of the resident, Berry College Vice President for Finance and Corporate Treasurer Brian Erb told Senior Housing News. Rome, Georgia-based Berry College partnered with Greenbrier Development to develop The Spires at Berry College, a $130 million life plan community on the school’s campus featuring 170 apartment homes and cottages, an extensive amenities package and a full suite of health care services.

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Berry College had ample available land — it is the largest college campus in the U.S. with over 27,000 acres — and a year-long study of how to develop the land revealed a need for senior housing in the Rome area, as well as interest from Berry College alumni and faculty to return to the campus in retirement.

“We’re very good at building residential communities,” Erb said. “The students have a life on campus, there was an outcry from alumni, and the demographics work.”

Other projects also have been driven by alumni demand and shaped by their input.

Albany, a senior housing community in Berkeley, California developed by Belmont Village Senior Living in an affiliation with the University of California, Berkeley, was shaped in part with input from university emeriti, Belmont Village Co-Founder and CEO Patricia Will told SHN.

A lengthy process

College campuses are attractive sites for senior housing, especially in land constrained markets, because of an availability of sites. Securing the land, however, can be a lengthy process, Purchase College President Thomas Schwarz told SHN.

Purchase, New York-based Purchase College is partnering with Life Care Services and Senior Care Development to build Broadview Senior Living, a $320 million, 220-unit independent living community on the Purchase College campus.

Because Purchase College is part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system, the land is owned by the state and the project needed approval from the New York State Assembly. The legislation was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2011.

As a private school, Berry College did not need to overcome as many obstacles to make The Spires a reality, Erb said. But the plan required approval by the school’s board of trustees in order to move forward.

“They had to agree that having a CCRC on campus worked well with our mission,” he said.

The entitlement process can take years. Purchase College spent over 10 years to secure the land for Broadview Senior Living. Berry College wanted to break ground on The Spires in 2008, but shelved the project after the Great Recession. Belmont Village spent five years on entitling the land for Albany, before the project even broke ground.

“It’s very difficult to get zoning and entitlement,” Will said. “So you’ve got to have a lot of patience.”

Bringing generations together

During its planning for The Spires, Berry College staff toured other senior living communities built in partnerships with colleges across the country and found most were built adjacent to the campus. As a result, these communities had layers of separation from the schools, hindering interaction between seniors and students.

“We thought, what if the community was within walking distance from the campus?” Erb said.

university partnerships, senior living on university campuses Courtesy of Brasfield & Gorrie General Contractors, and The Spires at Berry College
The Spires at Berry College is expected to be completed in 2020.

When The Spires is completed in 2020, it will be nestled near the heart of the Berry College campus. This is by design, Erb told SHN. More than 95% of the students at Berry work, and they work in positions ranging from landscaping to food service to management and finance. The Spires gives students a variety of work opportunities such as nursing, hospitality, administration and more.

Additionally, The Spires can provide a number of mentorship opportunities for the students at Berry. Many are already involved with the community as marketing interns and event assistants.

Broadview Senior Living will include extensive programming connecting residents with Purchase College faculty and students. A public area, dubbed the Learning Commons, will be available for use by all parties and contain programming by the school including arts, dances, theatrical performances and other activities, Schwarz said.

Albany is part of a larger mixed-use development incorporating retail, restaurant, graduate student housing and a school for children, Will told SHN.

“It’s ground-zero with respect to its location and the other generations that live adjacent,” Will said.

Another example of co-location is Lasell Village, a continuing care retirement community on the campus of Lasell College in Massachusetts, near Boston. The school is participating in the age-friendly university movement that originated in Ireland and gaining traction in the states, providing a framework for all-ages learning in universities. Leaders with Lasell Village and Lasell College are promoting the benefits of having senior living communities integrated with college campuses. And just as Berry College anticipates with The Spires, Lasell Village is a popular place for Lasell College students to work.

Educational synergies

Another attraction to university partnerships is developing educational opportunities for students and seniors alike.

Purchase College plans to offer short courses to Broadview Senior Living residents looking to continue their education, Schwarz said. Residents of Lasell Village agree to complete at least 450 hours per year of activities such as coursework, student mentorship and research projects.

Belmont Village is in discussions with DePaul University on ways to collaborate for Belmont Village Lincoln Park, a community set to open in Chicago this summer.

We’re very good at building residential communities. The students have a life on campus, there was an outcry from alumni, and the demographics work.


Berry College Vice President for Finance and Corporate Treasurer Brian Erb

“We are already in conversation with multiple faculty about all the different things we can do, pretty much because the Lincoln Park campus is adjacent to them,” Will said. “It will afford a very rich experience for our residents and their students.”

Educational synergies are even being pursued by senior living communities not located on college campuses. Heartis Village of Peoria, an assisted living community in Peoria, Illinois, partnered with area colleges to develop internship programs, classes and training for students pursuing careers in the health care industry.

Heartis Village and Methodist College established a gerontology internship, hands-on training for nursing students, a public health and community nursing course, and art classes pairing nursing students with residents. Heartis Village also partnered with library students from Illinois Central College, who teach courses on on how to use audio books and touch-screen computers at the community.

These partnerships are mutually beneficial: college students gain valuable insight, experience and college credits, and community residents enjoy sharing their expertise from their careers and value the interaction with the young college students, Methodist College Dean of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Eileen Setti told SHN. Methodist College is located 1.5 miles away from Heartis Village. As a commuter college, this makes it easy for students to participate in the programs.

From a financial standpoint, Methodist College and Heartis Village were also able to build the partnership with little investment.

“The learning benefit is what is so valuable,” Setti said. “Students have this opportunity in their backyard.”

The response from residents and students has been positive, Heartis Village Community Life Coordinator Lynette Steger told SHN. Heartis Village has seen more participation in the programs from residents, eager to assist students in obtaining their degrees and launching their careers.

“This is a home and what [residents] choose to do is up to them,” Steger said. “When I have different people in programs throughout the day, I know we’re reaching a wider swath of residents.”

Given all these benefits, it’s reasonable to expect even closer alignment between senior living and universities in the future. It’s even possible that student housing and senior housing could be developed together under one roof. Capital providers such as Harrison Street and Strategic Student & Senior Housing Trust already target both types of projects.

There are some obvious challenges involved, such as students’ propensity for late nights, Belmont Village’s Will noted. Still, she thinks it is a realistic possibility for seniors and students to share housing.

“I could easily see a combination of that kind of a dorm life with a seniors housing building,” she said.

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