A.T. Still University doesn’t think that assisted-living centers should be the place where older adults go to retire from life. Instead, the east Mesa university wants to create a place where senior citizens will feel excited about life, and it believes that a dose of youthfulness may be just what the doctor ordered.
The university has proposed building an “intergenerational village” at the campus on East Still Circle that will tie together seniors, students and Mesa’s second YMCA. There is also a proposal to build a hospital nearby.
“We’ve got a model of care for older adults where if someone gets sick, we put them in a medical care facility or a nursing home,” said Gary Cloud, the university’s director of advancement.
“We’re social creatures, and we take society away from older adults by institutionalization.”
The idea for the village stemmed from a study conducted in New York in 1991 that found that the bulk of elderly suffering was caused by loneliness, helplessness and boredom, Cloud said. The study led to the development of a new assistedliving model known as “Green Houses,” which embraces the idea of a more community-based center. Green Houses are designed to feel more like homes, with kitchens and living rooms at the center of each house and private bedrooms and baths surrounding the kitchen in a circle. Nurses and other health care workers must knock on doors before entering. Residents can choose when to eat or participate in activities, unlike many nursing homes that rely heavily on structured scheduling.
Although Green Houses are typically built in pastoral settings, A.T. Still is proposing to create a village with a more urban edge. The three- and four-story apartment buildings total about 120,000 square feet and will offer lofts for both graduate students and seniors. Today, there is no housing for students attending either of the two colleges on campus. The plan calls for 116 student units and 40 senior units. The school is home to the Arizona School of Dentistry and the Arizona School of Health Sciences. There are plans to add a medical school to the campus in July.
The land will need to be rezoned, and the project will require a permit to allow residential development on the site, said city planner Kim Steadman.
A 50,000-square-foot YMCA would rise next to the housing. It would be used by East Valley residents seeking a workout, seniors who need therapy and students at the university who are studying disciplines such as physical and occupational therapy.
“Where we see ourselves in this intergenerational village is actually the hub of activity,” said Damon Olsen, the executive director of the Mesa YMCA. “(Seniors) go there to live. They don’t go there to die. They want to be active. They want to be involved.”
The plans for the $18 million residential village and $6 million YMCA are not the only ones in store for the area around the college. A.T. Still University’s campus is actually part of a 132-acre Arizona Health & Technology Park in the vicinity of Baseline and Recker roads.
Right next door to the campus, Vanguard Health Systems has proposed constructing a 320-bed medical center and a specialty hospital with 80 beds and three medical offices, according to a preliminary application filed with Mesa.
In addition, another developer has started building several other medical offices in the park.
“This concept is so exciting,” said Harold Decker, a senior economic development specialist with Mesa. “It’s going to perpetuate a tremendous amount of activity and goodpaying jobs.”
Councilman Scott Somers, whose district includes the university, said the plans for the health park fall right in line with the Urban Land Institute’s recommendations for future planning in east Mesa. Those plans, he said, call for a medical and educational center.
“We’ve seen a lot of positive growth (in District 6),” Somers said.
A.T. Still already has created a nonprofit organization called the Intergenerational Village for Healthy Living Foundation to run the future center.
The project would be the second Green House in Arizona, but officials at A.T. Still said it will be the first in the nation to incorporate student living and an urban design.