A resident recently commented to me, "I've been here eight years and Lenbrook looks just as beautiful today as it did my first day here." It made me smile as I headed into a budget meeting where we would be talking about the very thing that engenders a "WOW" impression when you first walk in our doors: appealing amenities. The real WOW, I’ve learned however, comes when amenities are enduring – when you are able to keep them fresh and relevant year after year.
Continuous Investment in Physical Inventory
I've learned that the financial investment in physical inventory for appealing amenities is an ongoing process and is typically divided into three fundamental areas:
- INFRASTRUCTURE: Continual investment in the infrastructure such as mechanical systems, elevators, heating and cooling, technology, bricks and mortar, etc.
- AESTHETICS: Regular replacement and investment in the aesthetics such as carpets, chairs, fabrics, upholstery, décor, etc.
- LONGER-TERM MAJOR RENOVATIONS: Identify, design and implement major renovations/ additions/improvements on an 8-to-12-year cycle to meet changing needs and preferences.
Infrastructure and Aesthetics
We commission a full inspection and evaluation of the physical assets of our campus by an engineering firm every five years. This detailed engineering report guides our repair and replacement schedule for our infrastructure and aesthetics. This is also one of the tools we use to stay on track with the physical facility requirements for our national accreditation every five years from CARF – the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities. (In addition, there are other accreditation requirements for governance, health care, social, enrichment, etc.)
Longer-Term Major Renovations
As for major changes to how our building is used, we are deep into the planning process for what Lenbrook’s next major renovation will look like. I'm glad to say we’re right on schedule with this effort. Lenbrook completed its last major renovation eight years ago in 2008 when we essentially doubled our facilities by adding our Lenox Tower and renovating our common spaces. We know that to remain a leading Life Plan Community we need to re-position ourselves every 8 to 12 years. So how do we accomplish planning for these longer-term investments?
Investment in Enrichment Programs
Interestingly, the first step in planning for longer term renovations doesn’t involve any type of architectural programming or construction. The first step begins way in advance of a physical planning project, when we make investments into our Enrichment Programs. It takes months and even years to plant and grow successful Enrichment Programs for our residents. So we start by defining what the programs need to be successful.
Our Fitness Center is a prime example. It has taken the better part of eight years to realize the full value of our fitness program. However, in the past year we’ve gone from 1,400 visits to the center each month to 3,000 a month. This increase largely comes from continual refinement of our programming to fit the needs of our current and new residents. For instance, we have regular aerobics, water aerobics, yoga and tai chi, but we also offer classes in chair aerobics, seated yoga and balance. During the past year we invested in Enrichment staff and programs, but also enhanced the fitness center by adding space and recently converting to a saline pool.
Considering the importance of our programs, we’re looking closely at our common areas to review what programs operate within the spaces and how the physical space can help make our programs even more successful. From there, we may find that we need to reallocate or reposition some of the space to open it up for new opportunities … for more social interaction, dining experiences, easy-access health care, and other activities and events.
We also solicit input from our residents through weekly Community Chats, monthly resident information meetings, and through our Resident Feedback Log which tracks every idea and comment submitted. This helps us in making sure our amenities remain fresh, relevant and desirable to our residents.
After observing, listening and planning, we incorporate the two core principles we've found to be essential for effective Major Renovations…Re-allocation and Flexibility.
Over time, we learn what our programs need to be successful for the ever-changing senior consumer. One great example of this is our library. In our 33 years of existence, we are getting ready to move our library for the 4th time. Our residents say they would like it in a quieter area yet centrally located to as many residents as possible. Plus, we simply need more space for books – we average 300 book check-outs a month!
People often don’t like change. But I can say that due to the great leadership of our Library Committee, everyone describes this change as “exciting.”
This move will also open up new opportunities for our most central common area. The challenge will be to reallocate that space in a way best suited for our core space…socialization and dining opportunities.
Flexibility is important in our community because we have a very diverse set of desires and interests. A space is most valuable and most effectively used when we can accommodate many different needs and interests during a normal day. A good example of flexibility is the recent reinvention our main 5,000-square foot event center. Not only did we completely upgrade our audio and visual systems to meet the sophisticated needs of our residents, but we added movable partition walls to allow for three smaller venues when needed. This has created a huge amount of flexibility for that space and opportunities for new and different programming.
Late last year we acquired a piece of land adjacent to our southern property line. This purchase had been part of our long-term strategy as it gives us the opportunity for additional parking, safer access to Peachtree Road and potential new product -- all while protecting our valuable views from the existing buildings. We’re excited to study these opportunities.
Wisdom of the ages tells us “The only constant is change.” That’s certainly proved true for us as we work to keep our amenities more than just beautiful. You’re welcome to come by and take a look first-hand. And feel free to send me your impressions to [email protected].
Chris Keysor is President and Chief Executive Officer of Lenbrook. His passion for the senior living industry began early in his career as a CPA with KPMG Peat Marwick. Chris progressed in executive responsibilities over the years, working for a senior healthcare provider, healthcare financing organizations and senior living consulting groups. Chris is also a nationally ranked Ironman triathlete, which he says comes in handy raising his two young children with his wife here in Atlanta.