Category Archives: Strategy

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.”

John Huhn Named Community Living Solutions Director of Development

We are happy to announce that we recently hired John Huhn, LNHA, as our new Director of Business Development.

John Huhn, Director of Business Development, Community Living SolutionsHuhn comes to us with more than 30 years of experience in the senior living industry. He is a licensed nursing home administrator, having served in multiple senior living leadership roles, as well as roles in operations and project management.

During his tenure, he has been involved in developing a broad spectrum of senior living communities in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Arizona, including skilled nursing facilities, CBRFs, co-ops, and assisted living, memory care and independent living communities. Most recently, Huhn served in a leadership role for a technology company, where he focused on improving efficiencies and outcomes in the senior living industry.

Huhn, who is based in Minneapolis, Minn., will be focused on growing our markets in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

“John brings a breadth of industry knowledge to CLS as we continue to grow our business in 2020 and beyond,” said Duane Helwig, Vice President of Design and Partner. “John’s expertise will be invaluable as our clients partner with us to meet their goals through master planning, design and construction projects.”

With offices in Appleton, Des Moines, Iowa, and Minneapolis, we serve clients throughout the Midwest. With expertise in master planning, architectural design and construction, we partner exclusively with senior living providers and developers on projects that include 55+ and independent living communities, memory care and assisted living communities, and skilled nursing facilities.

How Can Senior Living Hospitality Differentiate Your Community?

Senior living communities everywhere are feeling the impact of our changing market, and these changes go beyond the influx of baby boomers needing care. Competition is higher than ever. Seniors and their families are thoroughly researching potential living and care solutions. With these changes and more in play, new senior living trends to help communities compete seem to emerge weekly. How does a community keep up? One service industry basic—hospitality— may be an industry game changer for senior living communities that execute on it authentically.

Hospitality is not just a great entry space and a warm welcome. Differentiating your senior living community using hospitality is so much more than focusing solely on community amenities. True hospitality in the senior living industry is the intersection of remarkable service and authentic community. And perhaps most importantly, enduring hospitality is not a customer experience tactic relegated to communities with the largest budgets. Enduring senior living hospitality makes your facility memorable, appeals to today’s consumers desperately seeking community and become a market differentiator.

Selling senior living hospitality vs. healthcare

You might be wondering why all the emphasis on hospitality. We’re in the care industry, right? In an industry where every single community sells very similar healthcare services setting yourself apart can be challenging. Authentic hospitality is service-focused, experiential and creates lasting community and fellowship. Excellent service contains many of the same elements at different communities, but it will look, feel and be unique to your community when it is mission-driven.

Mission-driven hospitality

If hospitality is not just beautiful amenities, delicious meals and a daily itinerary, what is it? Let’s redefine hospitality as a business driver. True, hospitality is mission-driven. Personalized experiences, authentic interactions, generosity and strong community start at an organization’s core—mission and vision. Without mission, hospitality is a surface level nicety. Mission-driven hospitality can create change and differentiation. Brand culture and community flow from your mission to create a one-of-a-kind experience residents and families remember.

To provide an example of authentic senior living hospitality let’s use the sample mission: Providing care and compassion that allows our residents to fully embrace life. We’ll use this example as we explore how brand, culture and community work together to create hospitality in healthcare.


Brand is so much more than a logo and tagline. Your senior living community’s brand becomes the essence of your mission. The brand is a visual expression of your mission and directly influences how hospitality is built via culture and community. The tagline for our example community might be “Embrace Life Together.” The themes of seizing the day and sharing moments together within this brand lead us to consider how the community’s physical space:

  • Creates both small fellowship spaces and larger community venues.
  • Guides residents to share meals and conversation together.
  • Promotes activities aimed at helping residents make the most of each day.

The senior living space design is critical. Your space reflects your brand, and potential residents will picture themselves living in your facility as they evaluate the community that best fits their lifestyle.


While brand is the external expression of your mission, culture brings that mission to life on the inside. If your brand focuses on care, is your team being cared for and appreciated? Are they empowered to go beyond the basics to provide the right care (physical and emotional) to every resident? Is your team building connections with residents that create belonging? Culture separates remarkable care from bland customer service.

In our example community, the way team members treat one another and embrace life together will dramatically impact the experience residents have interacting with your team. Embracing life together and going above and beyond for residents are concepts that need to be modeled by leadership.


Hotel-like amenities, including personal training-based fitness centers, coffee shops and on-property boutiques are the “it” senior living hospitality trend for building a community. Rather than simply following the trends, try putting resident desires first to drive creativity and problem solving. Ask how your mission coupled with resident demand can drive innovative resident experiences. Are residents looking for more interesting dining options? Try embracing life together and building community through monthly progressive dinners. Get your residents and team involved in brainstorming the right experiences for your community, and your building design and amenities will follow.

The bottom line on senior living hospitality

Get started differentiating your organization by infusing hospitality into every facet of your senior living community. Start by answering the following questions:

  • How is your mission being used to help your community come alive for residents?
  • How does brand coupled with resident demand drive innovative (not necessarily expensive) resident experiences?
  • Based on your mission, how can your team provide personalized engagement?
  • Are your employees driven to provide an authentic branded experience?

Considering how your space might change to fully reflect your mission? Great architecture and design can invigorate your community. Ready to learn more? Contact us or call  (920) 969-9344 to schedule a free introductory meeting.

Volunteer Ideas for Seniors

For older adults, the health benefits of volunteering are many

As a leader in senior living, you want your residents to have expansive, fulfilling lives. And perhaps you’ve been researching volunteer ideas for seniors to help them feel that connectivity to the greater good. If so, you’re on the right track. Numerous studies have proven that volunteerism has benefits that go far beyond helping those in need. In fact, for your senior living residents, it turns out the health benefits of volunteering are many. Let’s take a closer look at the health benefits, and then explore some volunteer opportunities for your residents.

Health benefits of volunteering, from the inside, out

Studies show that seniors live longer, happier, healthier lives when they devote some of their time to volunteering. That’s according to studies of volunteers in the United States, who reported that they had higher levels of well-being when compared to their non-volunteering counterparts, and lower rates of disability. Analysts believe that seniors reap these health benefits because of the increased social, physical and mental activity they experience through volunteerism. The same studies indicated that volunteerism may be especially good for seniors who are experiencing stress or are likely to otherwise experience social isolation, a serious issue that affects many seniors. Even among seniors experiencing grief from the loss of a loved one, they can achieve great benefits through volunteerism, which has been shown to shorten their course of depression.

With the research clearly pointing to the myriad benefits of volunteerism, senior living providers have an opportunity to truly enrich the lives of their residents, while also building the communities they call home. Supporting resident volunteerism can begin by simply giving seniors the tools and space they need to forge connections with the organizations that would value their contributions.

Volunteer ideas for seniors

When you and your staff are ready to explore volunteer opportunities for senior citizens, you may be surprised to find an abundance of organizations eager to bring seniors on board. Here are just a few examples of ways you can connect your residents with volunteer opportunities:

  • Partner with local schools, YMCAs or Boys and Girls Clubs to get your seniors involved in intergenerational activities. Whether you can get your seniors to the students or students come to seniors, these intergenerational programs bring joy to residents and foster in youth a deeper understanding of the elderly. LeadingAge reported on one partnership in which seniors worked with at-risk students—providing caregiving to infants and toddlers and talking and playing cards with older children.
  • Your more talented residents could knit hats, scarves and mittens for charity. Many of them could also help make fleece blankets for charity or for cancer patients who are going through chemotherapy treatments.
  • Residents could spearhead a charitable drive for food, hygiene items or clothing. They also could gather care packages for troops serving overseas. Ask your veterans whether they would be willing share special notes about their time in service.

These form just a small sample of opportunities available, and virtually every community has organizations in need of senior volunteers. With some time and commitment, it’s possible for an organization to create a volunteer pipeline that strengthens your community, while improving quality of life for our senior citizens.

Building senior volunteer opportunities starts with building the right space

If you are considering starting a volunteer program for your senior residents or expanding on your current efforts to cultivate volunteer ideas for seniors, having the right multipurpose space is essential. By putting great architecture and design to work for you, you can create a place that helps seniors enrich their lives by playing an integral role in the community. Whether you’re looking to expand to allow for a crafting space, meeting rooms for volunteers, or perhaps a volunteer resource center, we can help you get there. Ready to learn more? Contact us or call (920) 969-9344 to schedule a free introductory meeting.