“Please build it,” say seniors,” we’re waiting.”
By Lynn Volkens
Convenient and affordable housing for Gilpin’s growing population of senior citizens is moving toward reality. Gilpin County Commissioners Connie McLain and Gail Watson, and the county’s volunteer representatives to the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) Senior Housing Advisory Committee, Sharon Perea and Kay Johnson, have been meeting regularly to move the issue forward. They and Community Development Director Tony Petersen, began considering sites for a senior housing facility last spring and the group has met at least twice with a senior housing architect. Although still in very preliminary stages, being proposed is a one-story, 15-unit independent living structure located near the Gilpin County Community Center with housing reserved only for Gilpin County residents.
It isn’t a case of “If you build it, they will come,” but rather a case of “They’re already here.” The current commissioners are following a lead set by former commissioners Jeanne Nicholson and Forrest Whitman, along with current commissioner Buddy Schmalz, who commissioned a $52,000 grant-funded study of Gilpin County housing needs in 2008. At that time, Colorado’s Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) ranked Gilpin County fifth in the list of United States counties with the largest percentage of seniors. (Gilpin’s neighbor, Clear Creek County, topped the list with 38% and, in descending order, were Monroe County, Florida with 37.1%; Mercer County, North Dakota; Teller County, Colorado; and Gilpin, all with 36.7%). The senior population is expected to increase with a consequential need for independent living, assisted living, rehabilitation/recuperative living and nursing home facilities. For many Gilpin seniors, the lack of easily managed independent housing has meant moving out of Gilpin when their health or financial means can no longer support the upkeep of their larger family homes. It’s a move that many seniors don’t want to make, but other workable options just aren’t currently available.
Earlier this year, approximately 115 surveys were distributed to local Gilpin seniors, asking for specific input on interest in senior housing if it existed locally. Fifty-five completed surveys were returned. Forty-six of those responding said they would consider moving into a senior housing facility located in Gilpin-and “Hurry up and build it, please.” The targeted age-group for occupants is 65 and older. Of those surveyed, most indicated rental rates of $600 – $850 would be manageable.
Ray Drzymala of MOA Architecture has donated consulting services and provided examples of plans showing how the building could be designed. One and two-bedroom units are proposed, somewhere around 800 or 900 square feet in size (and possibly a smaller studio apartment) with a common room for socializing. The site near the Community Center is considered desirable for its central rural location, and for being within easy walking distance of the amenities the Center has to offer. As the County already owns the land, there is a cost savings to using that site; however the County doesn’t currently have the funding to build the structure outright. The advisory committee is in the process of forming a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization and plans to explore additional funding sources from philanthropic organizations and grant opportunities. It’s difficult to estimate the total project cost as it’s only in the “here’s what we’d like” and “what’s feasible?” phase.
Perea and Johnson have made several field trips to existing senior housing facilities to see what works and how to adapt those features to a facility for Gilpin seniors. They’ve developed a list of desired elements that will make the housing especially safe and convenient for seniors, from the general configuration of the apartments, outdoor space, interconnectedness and parking, specific measurements for hallways (to accommodate wheelchairs), organization of closet space, flooring type, window locations, lighting, heat controls, etc. – right down to how the knobs on the kitchen stoves should work. Their ideas, as well as those of Gilpin’s commissioners, community development staff and consultants, must be incorporated into a final design and put out to bid before the project can go further, pending funding. Down the road, there will be other decisions to make –who will manage the property, handle the rents, make sure snow removal and other services are provided, help with transportation needs, etc. Even further down the road is the possibility of expanding this facility to add assisted living, maybe even rehabilitation and nursing care.
The advisory group will soon be looking for volunteers with professional expertise in areas such as accounting and property management to help keep the ball rolling. If interested, please contact Gilpin County Commissioners.