Developers Change to Meet Demand

By Elizabeth Godley

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About a year ago, Helen Friesen decided it was time to move to a retirement residence. Since her husband had passed away five years ago, she’d lived alone and, frankly, she was lonely. Her son and daughter-in-law were clearly concerned about her. And on top of that, she didn’t feel like cooking anymore, an activity she’d previously enjoyed.

At 83, “I was certainly ready to make the move,” Helen says. She hasn’t looked back.

Luckily for her, there was a new retirement complex a few blocks away from the Burnaby home she’d lived in for 22 years, close to the seniors’ centre where she’d been a dedicated volunteer and - as it turned out - where some of her former neighbours were already living. She quickly settled into a bright one-bedroom suite with enough room for her china cabinet and entertainment unit.

A keen cribbage player, Helen was soon enjoying regular card games, as well as the daily 3 p.m. tea service in the main-floor lounge and chatting with other residents on the beautifully landscaped terrace. Although she prefers to make her own breakfast - her suite includes a two-burner cooktop and a microwave - she joins her friends, old and new, in the dining room for lunch and dinner.

Today’s downsizing seniors have high expectations, says Peter Gaskill, president of Pacific Arbour Retirement Communities in Vancouver. “They are looking for more space, more choice of services, more amenities. People want more, and they are willing to pay for it.” To date, his company has developed two seniors’ complexes, one in Vancouver and one in Burnaby, with another two to be built on the North Shore if approved by the municipality.

Maureen O’Toole agrees. As the Marketing and Community Relations Co-ordinator for Berwick Retirement Communities, she points out that new retirement residences include a spa, a theatre designed for live performances and movies, and a stand-alone pub decorated in Old English style; landscaping includes waterfalls and other water features.

Today's seniors are driving the demand for luxurious accommodation. They did not live through the Great Depression and were able to take advantage of the boom years after the Second World War. This may explain why, at one Vancouver residence, complaints skyrocketed when the fresh flowers on the dining-room tables were replaced with plastic ones.

Prospective residents also have high standards when it comes to meals, which must be tasty and nutritious. The old model, where everyone dined together at a certain time, is changing to a more flexible timetable where meal service is available almost on demand.

As for location, it is important to be within walking distance of shops and doctors’ offices, with transit, a library and a community centre nearby, preferably in a mid-rise building, well-landscaped, with lots of common areas where residents can mingle with other compatible people their own age. A shuttle for shopping and sightseeing trips is de rigueur.

Peter, involved with the design and development of more than 50 seniors’ retirement complexes during his career, says retirees today want spacious accommodation so they don’t have to get rid of their sofas, entertainment units and other large pieces of furniture.

“We work very hard to make our floor plans highly efficient in their use of space,” says Peter. “And we believe in having lots of amenities within the building.”

These can include woodworking shops, a music room where residents can practise their instruments in private, an art studio where instructors give regular classes, a library and a well-equipped exercise room. Wii is very popular, as are sing-alongs. Movies and live entertainment are available on a regular basis, as are outings for lunch and sightseeing. Afternoon tea and a pre-dinner cocktail hour are a daily occurrence.

One thoughtful feature that seniors appreciate is “cheater ensuites” - bathrooms with two entrances - one from the corridor or living room for visitors, the other from the bedroom for those nighttime calls of nature, Peter says.

Seniors were once reluctant to live in high-rise buildings because of concerns about fire but that disinclination has eased since the advent of sprinkler systems.

So, as developers offer far more amenities at retirement residences, and with far fewer responsibilities of home ownership, seniors can enjoy their retirement in comfort and safety.



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