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Renovating an Ugly Duckling

September 1, 2004
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How a facility was transformed from forlorn to fabulous by Richard McClellan
BY RICHARD McCLELLAN

Renovating an ugly duckling

The story of Meadow Glen of Richmond I first heard about the property two years ago from a real estate professional in Richmond, Virginia, when I was inquiring about long-term care properties that were available in the area. The agent's initial comment on this particular property was that it was "...almost new, had been opened and closed by the owner the year before, a very well-located property in the West End." He added, "It doesn't have too much curb appeal, and right now, it's even difficult to get into the property because of road construction...with all of the road construction, you really have to want to go for a visit."

I thought that this high-profile location would surely be known to the entire community and not be a "secret" to the local long-term care industry. I put it on the "back burner" of possible purchases.

However, having heard of the developer/owner in my inquiries around the state, I figured that the property likely had quite a story already. His reputation had been one that was typical of the long-term care industry in the 1990s: small operator/developer catches the development "bug," like many others, and builds multiple facilities far ahead of his ability to deliver a good product. He runs into cash flow problems; the property and neighborhood suffer.

Several months later I was again calling around the state looking for available properties in Virginia. This time, the agent mentioned that the property might become available soon. The owner had leased it to another operator-this time an underfunded one-and the business arrangement was not working out. The broker suggested that I should at least come down for a tour (and, he added, while I was in Richmond, the owner had a few other properties that could be acquired, too!).

During my initial visit, I was impressed by the property's excellent location, a nearly 10-acre parcel nestled in a wonderful wooded county park. There was certainly an immediate feeling of spaciousness for anyone driving into the parking lot. However, as I turned into the driveway, neither I nor anyone in our business of caring for families could have been prepared for the sheer starkness of it (figure 1). There was only a bare minimum of "landscaping" (if you could call it that). Several trees and dying shrubs were clustered in front of an H-shaped building configuration. Spotty areas of brown grass remained from a dry summer, and sod had never covered this ground in its almost three years of existence. Exterior lighting was at the lowest end of the cost spectrum, both by functionality and design/appeal. The first question one would ask in driving up to this building, I thought, was: What is it?

Upon entering this building in its "before" condition, it felt like a C-quality office lobby. There was nothing to let you know that people were supposed to reside there. All of the walls were white, with a hideous dark green trim around the doors. Vinyl floors were used throughout, except for a light caramel-colored, difficult-to-keep-clean carpet in the common areas at the front of the building. Ceilings consisted of 2' + 4' lay-in acoustic tile with fluorescent lighting, again consistent with an inexpensive office look.

The dining room was perhaps the most shocking (figure 2). In our industry, dining time is one of the most anticipated events of the day for residents-it must be a positive experience. Residents need a healthy diet and need to visit with their neighbors, and we need to see how well they are doing. The original entrance to the dining room was through one of two standard doors, again framed by that depressing dark green color. Two cheap ceiling fans adorned the center of the room, while several unattractive hanging light fixtures added their paltry contribution of light to a room that, thankfully, already enjoyed natural light from many windows along two sides. An inexpensive, decorative gas fireplace was stuck against a small wall, hiding the cafeteria-style serving window in the kitchen. However, it was the institutional gray vinyl floor that provided the dominant impact on the visitor. While the four-place tables were fine, the chairs were about as comfortable as the worst chairs in a doctor's waiting room. I felt as though I was standing in a really bad school cafeteria (although, surprisingly, the kitchen area was more than adequate).

To the left and right of the dining room were large mirror-image living/day rooms, each providing views of the front and rear of the building through more than ample window walls; the only problem was there was nothing to look at outside. The sparse furniture in the living room was bland, was not very welcoming and, not surprisingly, turned out to have been rented.

At the rear of the building, each room had a large covered porch. Sitting on those concrete slab porches, one had the potential to enjoy the natural wooded setting in the distance-a potential that was ruined by another interceding swath of brown grass.

The residents' suites comprised the outside legs of the H-shaped building. Each suite had the same institutional vinyl floors, whitewashed walls, 2' + 4' lay-in acoustic tile ceilings with fluorescent lighting, and green-trimmed suite entrance doors. Inside the room, the large living area was designed for two "patients," as indicated on some old plans that I was given. It was obviously set up for two beds because along one wall were two covered, wall-mounted fluorescent lights, with the typical nurse pull cords that we have all used in hospitals. The closet and windows were fine from a functional standpoint but, again, predictably stark. While the bathrooms were a good size, they lacked any sort of aesthetic appeal; but at least they were functional.

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