Grafton senior housing complex incorporating solar, geothermal technology
Energy innovation will be all around next month when residents start moving into The Providence Place, Grafton’s newest independent housing complex for residents 55 years and older.
The stone exterior of the 58,000-square-foot, L-shaped building at 815 Washington St. gives little hint as to the cutting-edge technology contained inside.
The building has 24 two-bedroom units, each with 1,025-square-feet of living space, and 16 one-bedroom units, each with 875 square feet. All units have one and one-half bathrooms.
When completed later this month, the building is expected to be worth $7.5 million.
Highlighting the arsenal of energy-saving measures is an in-ground geothermal system that utilizes 10 miles of liquid-filled coil pipe laid beneath an adjacent soccer and baseball field. The coils provide a natural heat-exchange system designed to keep the building comfortable in winter and summer without carbon emissions.
Residents will have high-efficiency Climate Master heat pump units in their units, giving them individual control of heating and cooling.
In addition, a 20,000-watt array of solar panels has been mounted to the building roof to further supplement its demand for energy.
The building is also super-insulated, keeping the desired warm or cool air inside and unwanted road noises out.
In addition to being environmentally friendly, the energy measures were incorporated into the building to keep operating expenses in check.
Operational cost is a key consideration for the project, said the Rev. Richard Wohlers, Providence Place spokesperson.
The idea for the Providence Place came from the Rev. Larry Prahl, pastor emeritus at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Grafton more than a decade ago.
“Pastor Prahl noticed that a lot of the older congregation members were moving away to places like Cedar Lake (in West Bend) and we would never hear from them again,” Wohlers said.
“It was Pastor Prahl who urged the congregation to do something about losing its older members.”
From that concept, the private, not-for-profit Providence Place board was formed.
As the idea of a senior residence took root, the church donated the six-acre building site.
“It took four years from paper to shovel,” said Phil Steinke, project manager and a member of a the governing board.
Part of that time was spent with village officials finalizing how the project should be handled.
“Because we are a not-for-profit corporation using land that had been owned by the church and never subject to taxes, we wanted to do right by the community. Our initial offer was to buy an ambulance every other
year or so, but village officials said they would rather have a payment in lieu of taxes agreement,” Steinke said.
The project is using an unusual financing approach, where residents pay an entry fee — $170,000 for the one-bedroom units or $190,000 for the two-bedroom units — and a monthly service charge of between $595 and $695.
When a unit is sold back to the management, the owner will receive 90% of the entry fee back.
“It is kind of a hybrid. The tenants are treated as condo owners, but they never really take title to the property,” Steinke said.
“The owners will never receive bills for heating, cooling, electricity, water or basic cable. All of those expenses are folded into the service charge.”
There is also no additional fee for indoor parking or storage space.
Steinke said he did exhaustive research on senior residences before working out the entrance fee and service charge formula.
“We crunched the number, and any resident who lives in the building for two years or longer is going to come out way ahead than if they were paying the typical rental fee in a senior project,” he said.
All of the units will be identically equipped with appliances, carpeting and wall treatments.
“That comes back to a conscious decision to treat everybody equally,” Wohlers said. “The idea is anyone should be able to bring a phone and their furniture and move right in.”
Wide hallways and low countertops throughout the building make it handicapped accessible.
Wohlers has traveled the county, marketing the project.
“One of the biggest myths I have had to overcome is the notion that Providence Place is open only to members of St. Paul Lutheran Church or only to Lutherans. We are open to all people, and there has been wide
interest,” he said.
Still, there is a connection with the historic church. Providence Place’s in-house chapel features the altar that was used by the 158-year-old church up until the 1970s, when the new building was erected.
A variety of amenities are also planned, including a bank office, barbershop, exercise room, library, craft room and two large lounge areas with gas fireplaces.
Even before opening, nine of the building units have been spoken for. Should the demand be strong, the building could eventually expand by another 16 units.
An open house with guided tours of the building is planned from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11.
THE PROVIDENCE PLACE senior independent living complex in Grafton offers several energy innovations. Photos by Mark Jaeger