Modular construction may not have a stellar reputation for creating durable and appealing structures, but that could be changing, thanks to successful projects in senior living and other sectors. In fact, modular buildings are revolutionizing the way some senior housing providers approach the development process from start to finish—driving costs down while creating more appealing spaces than some might realize.
Tigard, Ore.-based assisted living provider Elite Care has used modular construction in the development of its campuses since 2013, starting with Sylvan Park in Vancouver, Wash. (pictured above) and then Oatfield Estates in Milwaukie, Ore.
The company also has two more Oregon-based developments in the works. Knoll Summit is expected to open in 2016 and Oak Hills is expected to break ground in 2016. In addition, the company has plans to expand into northern California.
“Modular construction gets a bad name,” Elite Care CEO Jason Hess tells SHN, noting the negative public perception may be due to images of tornadoes tearing through mobile home parks. “But modular construction is rooted in technology and sophistication. You wouldn’t want a BMW built in a muddy field. You would want that BMW built in a factory offering laser-guided precision. That’s how we view our developments.”
In modular construction, the building is entirely constructed off-site, under controlled plant conditions, using the same materials and designing to the same codes and standards as conventionally built facilities – but in about half the time.
While modular construction has been around for decades, it’s just starting to gain steam in the senior housing space, and for good reason. The shortened construction timeline offers providers many benefits, Hess says.
Faster to Market
“If we were using traditional wood frames and building on site, construction could take 12 to 18 months,” Hess says. “Using modular construction we cut that time in half. That’s a big win. We can open six to nine months sooner, which allows us to start caring for residents sooner, and this expedited timeline to open allows us to generate revenue sooner.”
Indeed, the shortened development timeline is an attractive result of going modular, says Jeffrey Davis, founder and CEO of Chicago, Ill.-based Cambridge Realty Capital Companies.
“Our experience with modular construction has been very positive,” Davis says, noting he has had a stake in modular constructed senior housing facilities since 2002. “It makes an awful lot of sense, especially in the right market. Everyone wants to get projects done quicker.”
While the upfront costs to go modular are not necessarily less than the traditional approach, going the modular route also helps to streamline designs—saving time and money.
“If you can get the process down by the time you start on your third project you can start working in parallel where the modular construction company is starting boxes,” Hess says. “Then when the foundation is poured we can send laser measurements and get even more done in a efficient and timely manner.”
Elite Care communities reflect a home-like approach to assisted living care, with each campus featuring number of “houses” that support 12 to 15 residents each. The houses are three levels and 12,800 square feet, with the kitchen serving as the focal point.
Elite Care residents are in physical and/or cognitive decline, with 84% having some form of dementia. The average resident is 88 and requires assistance with six or more activities of daily living (ADLs).
“We know that on average 90% of Elite Care residents will go to the kitchen for meals,” Hess says. “We know our residents still find value in the home environment and want to get out of their rooms and socialize.”
Even with this frail population, Elite Care residents have less than one overnight stay in the hospital in the last year of life, and less than one 911 call in the last year of life, he said.
Easy Being Green
Utility costs can post a huge challenge for assisted living facilities, and creating energy efficient buildings helps to make a significant dent in those costs, Hess says, noting how modular construction helps to streamline green amenities from building to building.
Elite Care has also been recognized with a LEED platinum distinction—the highest possible rating for energy efficiency and environmental design.
Green features in Elite Care’s residential buildings and on the campuses include high-efficiency insulation, high-efficiency air conditioners, rainwater collection tanks used use in lavatories and community gardens, low-flow plumbing, tankless hot water heaters that service radiant piping beneath the floor, low-VOC carpeting and zero-VOC paint, triple-pane windows, Energy Star rated fans and appliances, and recycled concrete in retaining walls and gardens.
Looking ahead, Cambridge’s Davis says projects that involve modular construction are likely to become increasingly attractive as more industry members better understand how it works and its benefits.
“We’re contemplating getting more involved [in these projects] as more time goes on,” Davis says. “The reason it’s not that prevalent now is probably because both the developers and architects of new construction are not that familiar with it. But I don’t see any reason why it won’t take off.”
Written by Cassandra Dowell