The Grace Ridge Retirement Community is celebrating the completion of a major renovation and a return to normalcy for residents after a challenging year dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
One North Project, the second phase of a multimillion-dollar renovation that transformed more than 5,000 square feet of space, focused on the retirement community’s common areas. It includes a new café with outdoor patio, an updated club room, a beauty salon, and a clinic and wellness office, a news release says.
“This renovation is a big chapter in our 30-plus-year history, and we’re honored to be able to advance our mission of enabling seniors to flourish in a safe, caring and compassionate environment,” said Chris Romick, Grace Ridge’s executive director. “The added amenities have resonated with both longtime and new residents.”
The community also installed a state-of-the-art air purifying system in the health care center that has been proven to deactivate airborne viruses, including COVID-19, the release said.
Romick said navigating the residents through the pandemic was a challenge. Staffers had supplies delivered to the facility’s 200-plus residents during its months-long quarantine and facilitated online contact with residents’ families. Programs had to be shifted to a virtual format or provide for social distancing.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and it was probably the toughest year I’ve ever had to deal with in this industry, but now we’re in a much better place,” Romick said.
Grace Ridge is owned by Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge, which provided for the cost of renovations in its capital fund. The renovations are part of Grace Ridge’s master plan. Romick’s consulting work with senior living communities around the country helped with the vision to upgrade Grace Ridge.
“I was able to bring a lot of those things together here and say, ‘If we do a café, take advantage of the views and upgrade our independent living, we can compete with a lot of other bigger communities that have a lot more money to work with,’” he said.
The institutions made renovation decisions collaboratively.
“We did have resident input on many things,” Romick said. “We even took the residents on a bus trip to another community about two hours away, and toured their café and dining room, and from that, we asked them to submit ideas and thoughts.”
Suggestions included more open spaces for walker and wheelchair accessibility, brighter lighting, lots of windows and extra computer charging stations.
Grace Ridge and Carolinas HealthCare chose Frank L. Blum Construction Co. and Steele Group Architects to complete the renovations, the release says. ID Collaborative designed the interior. The project included redesigned entrances, new flooring and custom furniture.
Phase 2 renovations started in fall 2019, but when the pandemic hit, Grace Ridge had to adjust its plans.
“We completely shut down (renovations) until we got a handle on, ‘How can we do this safely,’” Romick said. “What we ended up doing is having different entrances for any staff working here, construction-wise. We had to work with the general contractor to put in the same protocols as we did for our staff for their staff — temperature taking, checking for signs and symptoms of anything. When we got back to renovating apartments upstairs, we offered free COVID testing to the construction workers, because we felt it was that important to protect them, and to protect the residents.”
The beauty salon upgrade includes a nail-tech salon area and two beauty/barber chairs.
The renovated clinic allows doctors to make “house calls” to residents. It includes a motorized chair that can flatten into an exam table for residents who have trouble with mobility.
The café location was chosen for a specific purpose.
“The views from here are spectacular, and that’s what we wanted to capture,” Romick said. “They can come out and take advantage of those views and have a nice outdoor space to enjoy and still be safe within this campus.”
The café patio will have a water fountain.
Before the renovation, the facility only had one communal dining space, the main dining hall. Residents completed a survey about what kinds of foods they would like to see in the café, and they requested “easy grab-and-go” foods, such as breakfast sandwiches.
The café is open for breakfast and lunch, and will be open for dinner on a seasonal basis. It includes a pizza oven. Residents, who have a meal spending plan similar to college students living on campus, can purchase both pre-packaged food and made-to-order items at the café.
The upgrades have allowed Grace Ridge to be referred to as a “boutique community.”
“We feel that by going the boutique route and making it very resident-friendly — not feeling over — commercialized, but having that homey mountain-foothills feel to it. We think it will continue to be very successful,” Romick said.
The final phase of renovation, set to take place later this year, will be renovating the health care center, which consists of assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing care.
Grace Ridge is open to visitors. Visitors must wear masks and have their temperature taken.
“Our health center is run a little differently,” Romick said. “Our mitigations there are more enforced by the state and (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), so we currently have stricter visitations there, and for good reason.”
Romick said the resident population, which includes those living in the cottages behind the main building, has a 99% vaccination rate. The facility held vaccine clinics in the ballroom.
“We were one of the first continuing care retirement communities in the state to get it (the vaccine),” Romick said. “Blue Ridge (Health) was a key player in helping that happen. We were in February when we did our first round. Residents were kind of surprised we got it as early as we did. It went extremely smooth here.”
They are still conducting biweekly COVID-19 testing for staff.
In-person activities for residents are being offered again, though modified to provide for social distancing and mask-wearing. Still, the return to regular life is lifting residents’ spirits.
“Now that we’re talking about doing outings and events, the residents are all for it,” Romick said. “Wherever we can take them, they want to go. There’s a renewed energy, I think, and a renewed interest in many things that maybe, a year and a half ago, there were some residents that didn’t care. But now some of them want to learn art. They want to go to the mountains. They want to go to a show in Charlotte, because they haven’t been able to.”
Some virtual activities were such a big hit that Grace Ridge will keep them in place, such as Zoom birthday parties.
“We would surprise the resident, bring them into the movie theater (in the main building), and on the screen, we would be using Zoom, and everybody they know would be on there,” Romick said. “One lady had four children, and three of them lived overseas — they were all on the screen, and were able to talk. They sent presents that she opened while they were watching her.”
Grace Ridge has seen a significant increase in inquiries from people considering a move there.
“I think a lot of them realized that the residents who lived in a community like this during this pandemic really had an advantage over folks who didn’t,” Romick said. “They had group support, they had staff, they had us giving them updates on COVID. We could test them, and we got them vaccinated.
“So I think with the renovations and coming out of COVID, we’re in a really neat spot to transition to this boutique-style of community, and what a benefit for Morganton.”
Staff writer Tammie Gercken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.