SFCS By Design 2023: Untapped Potential - Exploring New Horizons

March 7, 2023

Simply surviving the pandemic could be a celebrated outcome. 

Add to that current economic and employment challenges, generational upheaval, and a myriad of other societal changes, and it’s tempting in an industry like senior living communities to freeze or, worse, pine away for times past. 

Unless, that is, you attended SFCS By Design 2023.  

Held February 21-22, the 38th annual By Design conference hosted by SFCS attracted more than 200 Life Plan Community professionals from 22 states including Oregon, California, New York, and Florida. They came to Roanoke, Virginia, headquarters for SFCS, for the conference mission: “Untapped Potential: Exploring New Horizons.” 

“Why in the world would we want to waste a good crisis?” declared keynote speaker Dr. Mary Kelly, a retired U.S. Navy commander and author of 10 books on leadership. “If everything is on the table for change, how do we reimagine everything?”  

Founded in 1920, SFCS Inc. is a professional architecture, engineering, planning and interior design firm with offices in Roanoke, Charlotte, Philadelphia, and Louisville. With over 75 years of seniors design experience, SFCS is proud to be one of the leading firms in the country committed to the design of facilities for seniors. Throughout the first day, representatives of SFCS and its many industry and university partners expanded on this idea. 

The panel for the first session, titled “A New Horizon: Empowering Advances”, reimagined technology as a support system for those who will live 20 years longer than past generations and increasing wellness for not only residents, but staff as well. They also discussed how to adopt and implement tech in communities and the misconception that older adults prefer to avoid it.  

In “The Changing Dynamics of Dependent Care,” leaders shared strategies for renovating existing facilities from expensive, and increasingly unneeded, skilled nursing rooms to assisted living apartments. Sharing these strategies highlighted the untapped potential of how deregulating space can offer more independence to residents while still being able to care for them when most needed.  

Back for the 14th year, “SFCS Students & Seniors: Studies for the Future of Senior Living” not only presented innovative solutions for older adults, designed and prototyped by Virginia Tech third year students, but also exemplified the potential of pairing young, bright minds with experienced designers and the residents for whom they were creating.  

“All of you should be pursuing partnerships just like these,” SFCS managing principal Melissa Pritchard encouraged the audience.  “A lot of energy and excitement comes out of our collaboration [with the School of Architecture + Design at Virginia Tech] and it renews our passion in our day-to-day work. As professor Martha Sullivan said, “good design is not only feasible; it’s usable, it’s desirable and it's ethical.” 

Following the day’s final panel – which provided case studies of expansive revitalizations of older buildings, and the interdisciplinary cooperation that breathed in new life – Pritchard concluded, “There’s a lot of potential, even in your existing buildings with which you think there’s nothing that can be done.” 

The “untapped potential” of providing affordable Life Plan Communities for the “middle market” – the millions of Americans seeking affordable senior living with limited resources – opened Day 2.  

SFCS shared highlights of its “Middle Market Playbook,” which included low-cost financing strategies, and a “Kit of Parts” construction package.  The Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy funding (CPACE), presented by Lument investment banker Kevin Oakley, offers financial incentives for including energy efficient design or alternative energy sources, such as solar panels, which are already considerations when building in today’s market setting a low bar for feasibility. 

Said SFCS Architect’s principal Emily Jimerson, “It’s such an underserved market; it’s going to take everyone’s brain power to make it work.” 

Inclosing, Dr. Tracey Gendron, Chair of the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Gerontology, suggested that the residents of Life Plan Communities themselves are full of untapped potential. 

But society first must overcome the bias of ageism. 

Elders were once revered. Now society is bombarded by a constant stream of messages that demean the elderly and encourage people to stay young. Even the common term for one’s final phase of life is problematic. 

“Retirement is not a stage of life. Retirement is a social institution. When you tell me you are retired, what does that actually tell me about you? All it tells me is that you used to work. It does not tell me who you are as a person, what your goals are, or why you get up in the morning,” said Dr. Gendron. 

Gendron challenged the conference to differentiate adulthood – full of work and child-rearing stresses – and “elderhood,” which is the stage of purposeful slowing down for individuals who still seek meaning and self-actualization. 

“To me,” she said, “elderhood is becoming. It is a purposeful, powerful stage of life.” 

A stage of life – like the community the elders seek – full of untapped potential and new horizons.

By Design will be back at the Hotel Roanoke, February 6-8, 2024. Please visit SFCS.com for more information.

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