Senior Living Center in Historic Building Reflects Dickinson County Character

Thursday, December 03, 2020

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Dickinson County, Kansas, is a community featuring a rich, historical heritage with a vibrant population focused on the future. The most recent illustration of that is the recent opening of The Garfield Senior Living, a senior living community located in the renovated Garfield Elementary School.

“There was definitely a community need, as there was not a market rate independent senior living facility in the Abilene market,” said Andy Gilmore, president of Gilmore & Associates, the owners of The Garfield. “Seniors were reaching out to us from neighboring communities saying they wanted to be in Abilene, but there was nowhere for them to live.”

The Garfield opened earlier this year, not as assisted living, but as independent senior living. Tenants have the opportunity to live in a location without the many requirements of ownership, such as maintenance and upkeep. Additional services like cleaning, grocery delivery, social activities and healthcare are available as needed.

Historical Project

The Garfield is located in what had been the Garfield Elementary School, built in Abilene in 1942. From the very beginning of the project, Gilmore realized how much the Abilene community values its heritage and the historical buildings throughout town. The building was to be replaced due to local school district growth, with a bond in place for a new facility. But in response to community requests, school district officials made a promise to sell the old building to developers who would repurpose it and keep it involved in the community. Enter Andy and his brother Josh Gilmore, vice president of Gilmore & Associates. The sibling’s are passionate about family-focused development and had been in the market for a high-end living facility for seniors. The elementary school building was a perfect fit to meet their needs. 

New facility inside the Garfield CenterThe Garfield Elementary School was on the National Register of Historic Places, so any steps toward repurposing the building had to match that standing. But the Gilmore's were able to use the features of the old school building in the design of a senior living center perfectly. The classroom sizes were easy to fit the volumes necessary for apartments and the existing large windows offered often sought-after natural lighting. The old gymnasium was turned into a Community Room for dining and living functions, with the old stage becoming an exercise room. 

“Specifically, no changes could be made to the main street-side of the building, along with no significant changes to the finishes or volume of original space, such as the corridors, gymnasium or the architecturally unique classroom with glass block,” said Gilmore.

Keeping the building’s original feel and appearance has been met extremely favorably by the community, said Gilmore. 

“It has been very cool to see the connection between the past and what we have now,” he said. “One resident had been a cook at the school and several people who have come through to look have gone to school here.”

Community Spirit

From the initial walk-through, the Gilmore’s saw the building’s layout potential and understood how the community would appreciate the repurposing. But updates would be needed to serve as a senior living facility and they struggled with the thought of committing to the renovation financially. So they turned to community leaders for help to complete the work needed to make the facility a reality.

“Chuck Scott and Dickinson County Economic Development helped make the community network connections necessary and introduced us to the available financial assistance, from city and county sales tax exemptions to the Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Rebate,” said Gilmore. “We learned the entire community is tight knit and open to outside investment that will help their small, rural community grow and thrive.”

As a result, the Gilmore’s look eagerly to their future as part of the Abilene community. The Garfield is only 20% full, a reflection of the economic difficulties associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. They have yet to have any tenants with positive COVID-19 cases and continue to focus on the health requirements that will keep them safe, while still maintaining the independent living tenants want.

“We know how difficult it is for people to make a significant life change like moving during a time of unsettling economic situations,” said Gilmore. “But we are excited for the future and being a big part of the cultural growth happening in Abilene.”

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