A continuing care retirement community, Blakeford at Green Hills is in the midst of a major expansion and renovation project to rethink how residents live, play and interact.
"There's really not an area of the campus not being affected in some way," Brian Barnes, president and CEO of Blakeford Senior Life, said of the two-year project.
Currently, the campus includes 124 independent living apartments, 46 assisted living units, and 83 licensed beds in the skilled nursing section. When completed, Barnes said there will be 51 new independent living residences, a new state-of-the-art health and wellness center, new full-service aquatics program, exercise gym, group exercise space, new spa and salons, along with numerous reimagined spaces for dining, arts and hobbies.
A big physical change for the campus is the addition of a memory care unit. The assisted living units are currently located in two wings. One wing will be demolished and rebuilt as a two-story, secure memory care unit. When completed, there will be 24 memory care and 23 assisted living spaces.
"In the skilled nursing area, we are expanding our therapy space, and it will connect with a therapy garden," he said, adding the outdoor space utilizes different surfaces and levels so residents can practice moving in a real world setting.
"Everything is getting an uplift, so we're not restricted by finishes currently there," said Marta Lockwood, NCIDQ, project lead with GMK Interiors. Overall, she continued, "It's got a neutral palette with pops of color over it, allowing the community to stay more timeless. We're going to be bringing in a lot of color with artwork and furnishings and plants."
"One of the major items Blakeford wanted to accomplish with this project is biophilic design," Lockwood continued. "It's really just incorporating the outdoors indoors in many different ways. She added the design team is utilizing color, natural light, patterns and textures inspired by nature. "We've incorporated three living walls, and one of them is two stories."
Lockwood said the city's personality also subtly plays into the design. "We have wood panels that conceptually look like a guitar fret in the bistro and an abstract music staff on signage. There will be a Nashville wall near the front entry with photography and artwork," she outlined.
Celebrating their 25th anniversary, Barnes said it's important to evolve to meet new needs and expectations. "We have a different generation of seniors coming to us now than could have been imagined 25 years ago," he noted. "It's a completely different marketplace. People want options. They want to continue to remain active and healthy.
"The Health and Wellness Center is a huge leap forward," he continued. "It will allow us to provide wellness programs far beyond what we can do today."
Part of wellness is remaining engaged and being lifelong learners whether that's at age 70 or 90. "We already have Blakeford University with guest speakers," Barnes noted. However, the expansion allows for more flexibility and space for an art studio, woodworking shop and other areas hands-on activity areas.
The project also is introducing smart home components and enhanced technology in the new apartments. "Just in the past five years, the number of devices used by our residents increased tenfold," Barnes said of demand.
The bottom line is choice. In the independent living sector, there is currently a large, formal dining room. Both because of lifestyle wishes and COVID considerations, the expansion will feature formal dining, a casual bistro, coffee bar, grab-and-go option and a terrace with an outdoor kitchen.
Lockwood said the ceiling of the coffee bar is one of her favorite features. "In their existing space right now, this area is an interior courtyard. The architects closed the space but didn't want to lose light," she explained. "So they're creating this atrium ceiling that is kind of like a giant skylight, and we've designed it to have string lights so it will feel magical in the evenings."
Assisted living and skilled nursing are also undergoing dining renovations with food production decentralized to each area instead of all food coming out of one main kitchen. "We're making each level of care more self-sufficient," said Barnes. While COVID wasn't the primary driver behind that decision, he said it was certainly a contributing factor.
"Thinking about infection control and transference, we have a building committee that looks at pandemic-related design considerations," Barnes continued. Lockwood added her firm specializes in senior living. "Pandemic or no pandemic, we are always looking at materials that are easily cleaned," she said. "We did switch out granite because it's so porous and switch to quartz, which is more expensive but much easier to clean ... and pretty, too."
Lockwood noted there are now so many commercial options that stand up to wear and tear but are still beautiful. "Any of our hard surfaces, like vinyl planks, are going to hold up to harsher chemicals that are being used by maintenance staff. Our carpets are made of solution-dyed nylon so color goes all the way down and stands up to bleach solutions," she noted.
One byproduct of COVID, Barnes said, is an increased awareness of isolation and the need for a support network. "There's an attraction now maybe where there wasn't before for community living," he said. "The social aspect in a community like Blakeford at Green Hills is so important to the long-term mental health of an older adult." And, Barnes continued, more and more people are drawn to the easy, active lifestyle.