Author Archives: Duane Helwig

Senior Living Design Trends for 2021

When COVID-19 became a part of our daily lives, it altered much of how we live and work. For us at Community Living Solutions and our clients, it means our approach to senior living community design takes into account more factors around senior health and wellness. The senior living design trends emerging are in response to this new landscape. Building codes and operational protocols are being implemented with the pandemic and future outbreaks in mind, forcing developers, architects and facility leaders to adapt quickly.   

Beyond the pandemic, another challenge impacting senior housing design trends is economics. As the nation’s population ages, a coming wave of seniors looking for senior living options is nearly here. Demographers estimate that 70% of Americans aged 65 or more will require long-term care.

As your trusted advisors and industry experts, we are monitoring these trends. By partnering with us, we’ll help you understand how best to design, innovate and remain competitive in light of these changes as we help ensure your senior living facility meets these trending needs.

Trend 1: Design for safety

The pandemic is forcing us to rethink how spaces can be used to fight infection. Today we need to think about easy-to-disinfect surfaces, strategically placed sanitation stations and compartmentalization layouts as key components in future facilities. We also must consider planning anterooms and other special areas within buildings where health workers can put on and take off protective clothing.

We also recognize the need for better ventilation and HVAC systems. We can recall the beginning of the pandemic when airlines scrambled to find ways to filter air particles or introduce fresh air into cabins. Likewise, senior living facilities will need to implement advanced air filtering systems.

At the same time, facility updates need to be balanced with efforts to combat social isolation caused by the pandemic. We are already experimenting with ways to create safe, indoor communal areas that are also flexible for multiple uses. Movable partitions, for example, can be employed to re-arrange layouts quickly depending on the need.

For those seniors who can live independently, pocket neighbors are taking hold across the United States. These neighborhoods, now being built as part of larger senior living communities, feature small, single-family homes located in close proximity to needed services and activities. In this way, residents can be socially active while being shielded from larger communal areas where risk of infection is much higher. It’s a good compromise between strict isolation and complete exposure.

Finally, industry leaders recognize that multi-purpose outdoor areas such as gardens, walkways and patios will be central to senior living planning going forward. They are investing in customizable features for these areas like pavilions, visitation tents and roofed porches. Social distancing measures can be maintained through the use of fixed benches positioned at safe distances from one another. Layouts that provide for multiple direct exits to the outside cut down on traffic through the main facility’s corridors.    

Trend 2: Offer more options for the middle market

The middle-market for senior living is vast. The coming influx of baby boomers into senior communities is expected to significantly raise the cost of care. This leaves middle-income seniors wondering how they will provide for their own care—they have too many assets for Medicaid assistance but not enough assets to pay for care in the long term. In addition, the long-term care insurance market is contracting. Since the industry went from 100 private insurers to 12, it’s estimated, insurance covers less than 10% of people who need it.  

With fewer options to ease this financial crunch, middle-income seniors will need more efficient and fiscally responsible solutions. That challenges all of us to find innovative ways to bring construction costs down while also helping middle-income consumers to change their expectations. They may not be able to afford facilities with high-end amenities like spacious rooms, fitness centers and beauty salons. Reassessing priorities to guide more efficient construction and design may help solve the middle-market squeeze while still maintaining a high degree of comfort for residents.

In addition to affordable construction, another option may be bringing services to the middle class. Even before the pandemic, home healthcare was on the rise, increasing 30% in the last five years. While home health may seem a competitor of senior care facilities, the boom may present an opportunity. We ask: What can be done from a design perspective to enhance partnerships with a home health agency that could, in turn, drive business to your facility? It’s an opportunity worth considering.                                                                   

Trend 3: Focus on staff

It’s no secret that staff members at senior living facilities had a stressful and challenging 2020. Well before the pandemic, facilities were challenged to find and retain staff. By some estimates, the senior care profession will need to add 2.3 million new workers by 2030 to remain viable.

In response, design can no longer be just resident-centered. We must consider staff efficiency and well-being through design and technology. Buildings that incorporate natural light, spaces for staff collaboration, nourishment opportunities like cafes and snack bars, fitness areas specifically for staff and acoustic separation to cut down on noise will go far in attracting potential employees. 

Senior living communities will need to plan for these changes while remaining sustainable and fiscally efficient. 

Trend 4: Adopt virtual technology

Lastly, tech. The pandemic quickly taught us how to live and work virtually. One piece of tech we’ve looked at personally, Matterport®, could also help facility leaders as they recruit residents. First intended to help real estate buyers visualize properties, this 3D digital mapping technology can also be used to offer seniors and their families a virtual walkthrough of a facility. In this way, they can tour the building without having to go there physically, making it convenient and safer as they choose their next home.

Depend on our senior living construction expertise

At CLS, we strive to stay at the forefront of senior living design trends. In doing so, we provide architectural design and building recommendations to enhance your marketability, helping you stay ahead of the competition.

If you would like to discuss how to modernize a current facility or build new in light of today’s challenges, contact us or call 920-969-9344.

State Funds Available for Nursing Home Construction Projects in Minnesota

If you’re considering replacing or renovating an existing nursing home in Minnesota, you may be eligible to receive funds from the state. Through what is known as the moratorium exception, the state’s Department of Health announced the appropriation of additional nursing home construction funds that total about $58 million for a variety of building and renovation projects.

With expertise in planning, designing and constructing senior living facilities, we at Community Living Solutions can help guide you through this opportunity and partner with you to develop a sustainable plan for your facility’s future.

What is Minnesota’s moratorium exception?

Applicants with projects that exceed $1.8 million and desire a rate increase for defined portions of the construction project must go through the moratorium exception process.

But time is running out!

You must submit a letter of intent to the Minnesota Department of Health by April 23, 2021. Applications are due June 25, 2021.

The state’s Commissioner of Health, in coordination with the Commissioner of Human Services, will decide on the validity of these requests, according to Minnesota statutes.

We are here to help

With interest rates at a historical low, combined with this opportunity, we believe this could be a prime time for upgrades or new building projects. Community Living Solutions would like to partner with you to help you understand this limited-time opportunity and what the application process entails.

Specifically, our team will work alongside you to:

  • Develop a master plan for your facility’s needs and challenges, as well as sustainable solutions for your market
  • Develop schematic drawings
  • Establish construction and non-construction budgets (such as furnishings and moveable equipment)
  • Complete the moratorium exception application for nursing home funds
  • Assist in your communications with and presentations to the Minnesota Department of Health

If you’re interested in learning more about how Community Living Solutions can guide you in nursing home construction or renovation, email John Huhn or call 612-963-0889.

Designing Senior Living Facilities to Enhance Socialization

A plan for connection, conversation and companionship


Designing Senior Living for SocializationIf the recent social distancing protocol has taught us anything, it’s that we crave daily human interaction. The innate need to socialize is real for people of all ages. Yet, as some adults enter their golden years, socialization tends to decrease due to retirement, the loss of family members and friends, or an increasing lack of mobility. We know this lack of daily interaction can lead to depression, cognitive decline and a higher risk for health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity. On the contrary, those who maintain meaningful contact with others experience a boost in mood and cognitive function, an increased sense of purpose and well-being and in some cases, a longer life. Designing senior living facilities to bring people together can promote connection, conversation and companionship to improve your residents’ well-being.

Design trends good for the mind, body and soul

Here at CLS, we understand the importance of keeping residents socially connected and physically active. Whether you are looking to do more with the space you have, planning a renovation or building a new facility, we offer the latest in design to enhance socialization.

 Spaces for friends and fellowship

 Incorporate communal spaces to promote mixing and mingling. Hallways provide plenty of opportunity for interaction. Include alcoves throughout the corridors and benches along walls to provide a space for friends to chat or to have a by-chance encounter with a passerby. Community cafes are another senior living design trend that helps friendship take bloom. Small group spaces reminiscent of home family rooms for playing games and putting together puzzles, as well as homestyle kitchens where residents can cook, bake and take cooking classes together promote staying active and connected.

Creative quarters

 Whether they build, paint, crochet or sew, spaces designated for crafting allow minds and fellowship to thrive. Incorporate an art studio complete with natural light and supplies and host a gallery walk where, together, residents can view art on display. Consider space on your grounds for a workshop for building and sculpting and recruit your seasoned carpenters to teach an instructional class. And incorporate maker spaces for crafts of all kinds—from painting and drawing to quilting and crafting. Hold a Saturday market in a common area where residents, staff and visitors can view and purchase art on display.

Outdoor spaces

 Gardens, walking paths and courtyards encourage fresh air, fitness and friendship. Whether to take in the beauty of nature or to get some physical activity, a space designed to enjoy the outdoors is a must. Incorporate eye-catching landscape elements like fountains and ponds, plant shrubs and bushes that attract birds and butterflies, and incorporate several sitting areas where residents can picnic, birdwatch or simply shoot the breeze.

Music rooms

Nothing brings people together like music. A designated music room or multi-purpose room with proper acoustics can encourage gathering to create, harmonize and worship. Whether residents use the room to make their own music or invite weekly performers, staff, visitors and residents alike are sure to enjoy all it has to offer.

Wellness areas

 Today’s seniors are living active lifestyles. Help them get their daily dose of activity and social interaction by providing space for fitness activities like yoga, Pilates, thai chi or strength training. Consider incorporating a fitness studio built to house treadmills, elliptical machines and incumbent bikes. Or turn a multi-purpose room into a fitness studio for aerobic classes and personal training. Also trending is to incorporate in-room fitness spaces for home workouts. Home workouts don’t have to be done alone. Offer buddy training where residents can work out with a friend.

Senior living design with socialization in mind

CLS specializes in designing senior living facilities with you and your residents in mind. To incorporate these and other senior living design trends in your new facility or remodel, set up a free consultation or call 920-969-9344.

Riverwood Senior Living Design Project Qualifies for $1.6 Million PACE Wisconsin Loan

Program helps facility provide resident-centric amenities

Senior living design with commercial PACE Wisconsin loanFor Community Living Solutions, senior living design starts with a belief that as architects, we owe a responsibility to the environment and to our clients to design buildings that are sustainable. For Riverwood Eagle’s Nest LLC, that belief helped its investors reap great rewards. The Wisconsin Dells-based developer qualified for a $1.6 million Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Wisconsin Program loan that is helping them provide energy savings and resident-centric amenities that will boost the facility’s marketability. It’s the first senior living project in Wisconsin to use PACE Wisconsin funds.

What is a commercial PACE loan?

Commercial PACE Wisconsin programs allow property owners to finance energy improvements and pay back the costs over a specified period of time through assessments. While PACE is a federal program, every state must adopt legislation that allows for its use. In Wisconsin, the application is limited to commercial property owners. The county where the property is located also must pass a resolution to make PACE projects allowable. Riverwood and Columbia County worked in partnership to enable the economic incentive to be used on the project.

In order to qualify for the program loan, a certified third-party energy consultant analyzed Community Living Solutions’ design plans and specifications. Using modeling software, the consultant was able to tell Riverwood’s investors how much they can expect in energy savings over the life of the facility. The expected savings then equals the qualified loan amount—for Riverwood, $1.6 million.

Energy-efficient senior living design

Community Living Solutions didn’t design the building in an attempt to match a PACE loan goal. Sustainability and energy efficiency is simply a hallmark of our design and building philosophy. When investors submitted our plans to see whether it would qualify, the PACE consultant identified it was 38% more energy efficient than the required code.

Building an energy-efficient facility like Riverwood costs more up front. But, as was confirmed by the PACE analysis, the benefits—and savings—last for decades. Our design included:

  • Positioning the building on the site in such a way to maximize natural energy efficiencies
  • Window upgrades that are more efficient than code minimums
  • Minimizing air exchange by having the exhaust flow through a heat exchanger, which will capture the heat used and bring it back into the building
  • Upgraded air-to-water heat pumps
  • Low-flush volume toilets
  • LED lighting

“At a high level, PACE allowed us to provide amenities that we wanted to use to make the facility resident-centric,” said Mary Panzer, one of the Riverwood owners .

As an example, the building will feature in-floor heating. At a more macro level, the cost savings also will allow the owners to pay employees a higher wage than they might find elsewhere, helping mitigate the challenge of finding employees in a tight labor market and promoting employee retention.

A unique project in an idyllic setting

Riverwood is being built as an intentional community, focused on wellness with a continuum of care that includes assisted living and memory care apartments, the first phase of which is scheduled to open October 2020. Future building phases may include independent living duplexes and apartments; a community commons/senior center, healthcare resource center, recreational/wellness center, conference and meeting rooms, a restaurant/social area/ice cream bar; and a hotel/spa and conference facility.

It’s all being built on a 48-acre parcel of land directly on the lower Wisconsin River in Wisconsin Dells.

“We want to service our community with an active lifestyle that promotes wellness,” Panzer said. “Today, seniors want to choose where they live. We are really concerned about safety and functionality. We want it to be aesthetically special—we want it to be a home for our residents and a place where their families want to visit. Yet, it needs to be cohesive so that when someone goes through the continuum, it is gradual and not a shocking change.”

“It really is a combination of the sweet spot between the markets served, the client’s vision, operational efficiencies and serving the needs of the community,” said CLS Chairman and Partner Terry McLaughlin, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP. “The initial vision was finding that sustainable and responsible intersection, and that’s what created this unique responsible business solution.”

The facility will be operated by Altoona, Wis.-based Grace Lutheran Communities. Grace Lutheran was brought to the table for its knowledge in running senior living facilities. Grace’s expertise was tapped immediately when CLS urged the team to consider licensing the assisted living facility as a CBRF. By doing so, the assisted living apartments can house higher acuity need residents, giving operators and investors the flexibility to serve a greater audience. The decision also maximizes the concept of aging in place.

Facility reflects current senior living trends

Riverwood’s vision taps growing trends in senior living—providing care through what is essentially a small community that features hospitality components and amenities.

“The combination of serving our markets through these trends along with the funding and the experts at the table, made this plan work,” Panzer said. “CLS has such a depth of experience. They’ve tried many things—they guided us toward the right choices and away from the wrong ones.”

If you are interested in learning more about our energy-efficient senior living designs that could save you money and help the environment over the long term, contact us or call 920-969-9344 for a free consultation.

The Rise of Intergenerational Senior Living

Senior living community, Montello, WI

Unique multigenerational living communities find success

It turns out that today’s seniors and young generations have a few things in common—they both often suffer from feelings of isolation, and in the case of young 20-somethings, they both may be living within a limited budget. The commonalities, along with the fact that these generations share stronger relationship bonds with each other than counterparts from years past, have given rise to intergenerational senior living.

How the trend has evolved

While the concept of multiple generations living in a single home is not new for many nations, in the United States, living on your own away from family correlates to our strength of independence and self-reliance. Our own country’s history had a hand in families living apart. At the same time that senior care facilities were established in the 19th century, younger generations were leaving home in search of jobs in the West. Children further distanced themselves from parents after World War II, using resources stemming from the G.I. bill—as suburban homes became affordable in the 1950s and ‘60s, households contained only one or two generations, while more and more elderly moved into senior living facilities.

In 1950, about 21% of households included two or more generations. Thirty years later, that percentage fell to 12%.

But we are going back to our roots. According to new data, multigenerational living is on an upward climb—19% of U.S. residents lived in a multigenerational home in 2014. What’s more, multigenerational living isn’t just happening in single-family homes. Senior living facilities and developers are creating multigenerational living communities around the United States.

In fact, a movement to bring generations together in a wider community is known as New Urbanism. The philosophy says that communities should be built around an 8-to-80 principle by serving those ages and everyone in between. It starts with communities that are walkable, have plenty of green spaces and access to age-friendly amenities.

A look at intergenerational senior living

You may have noticed that today’s youth have a much stronger relationship with their parents—more so than those parents had with their own mothers and fathers. It’s a cultural shift that feeds into varying generations being willing to live in close proximity to each other—even under the same roof. This shift also lessens social isolation, a phenomenon prevalent in seniors, but experienced by people of all ages, especially youth.

Some senior living communities and senior housing complexes are attracting residents with retail and restaurant spaces that also cater to people of all ages. Others are building new or repurposing existing spaces in neighborhoods where there are schools that naturally bring generations together or in locations where senior living residents can easily walk to amenities that allow them to interact with others.

And yet others are purposefully integrating young generations into their senior living communities. Here are ways facilities and developers are bringing generations together:

Providing student housing options

Watkins Manor, an assisted living facility run by Winona Health, offers 10 Winona State University (Minnesota) students the option to live at the manor for a monthly fee that includes utilities and meals. In return, students must volunteer 10 hours a month with seniors. The manor, a former mansion, is not conducive to wheelchairs and walkers, which gave leaders the opportunity to open their doors to students.

Similar arrangements exist in other locations, including Judson Senior Living in Cleveland, Ohio, where a small number of university students can stay for free in exchange for interacting with seniors.

Fostering generations

The Victory Lap in Chattanooga, Tenn., found a unique way to help those who age out of the foster system—house them in available senior living apartments. The organization sees several advantages to the model: it improves the occupancy rate, it could alleviate the ever-growing labor shortage by training the former foster children and it strengths intergenerational relationships. Other communities are looking to duplicate the model.

In Oregon, Bridge Meadows developments were built specifically to bring together foster children, their families and seniors. Senior residents are expected to volunteer six hours a week, assisting their younger neighbors in any way they can, like helping with homework or seeing children off to school while parents are at work. In turn, the children are learning valuable life skills.

Enjoying school spirit

A development group created Legacy Pointe at the University of Central Florida. Those who live in the senior living community can take classes and participate in other learning opportunities. On Arizona State University campus, a full continuum of care will be available at Mirabella, from independent living to skilled nursing. The facility will include classrooms, and residents will have a campus identification card to access facilities and events.

Reaching out to youth

The Lakes at Stillwater, Minn., strategically located near an elementary school so children and seniors can easily come together for intergenerational programs.


In all these multigenerational living communities, each generation has a lot to offer the others—seniors share knowledge and experience with youth while youth help energize seniors and can teach them about new technologies. These experiences also help combat ageism.

We can help with a unique solution

If you are looking to integrate seniors with younger generations through a new senior living design or construction project, contact us. We start with a master plan to help ensure greater success for your project before creating designs and a construction project plan. For a free consultation, give us a call at (920) 969-9344.

To get ideas for intergenerational programs in your facility, read our blog, “How Intergenerational Programs Benefit All Ages.”