In June, The Spires at Berry College opened its doors to its first residents. Unlike others of its kind, this continuing care retirement community shares a home with Berry College’s campus, creating a space for both retirees and college students to enjoy together.
Over 70 % of the homes are pre-sold, and the new residents are moving in over the span of the next few months. The Spires is made up of 144 apartment homes and 26 freestanding cottages. Construction began on October 18, and despite challenges related to COVID-19, The Spires opened as planned in June.
“When I was interviewed last year, they kept telling me the opening date was June 1st, and the miracle is that we still opened on June 1st” says Laurie Steber, Executive Director of The Spires. “The construction team did a great job continuing on and keeping people safe while working toward the date.”
During the summer of 2019, Laurie’s husband, Dan was able to retire. When looking online for available jobs, Laurie came across the director position at The Spires. She felt like a light bulb went off: this job combined both her love for seniors and the respect she had for Berry students.
“My nephew went to Berry, and every student I had met there was just fabulous. They all had an excitement and desire to learn, and when I pictured students and residents interacting every day, it energized me,” Steber says.
In November 2019, the Stebers moved to Rome from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Now that residents have moved in and she’s gotten to see the students and residents interact, it has been “everything she had ever dreamed of.”
Having students working on-site has made a palpable impact on the atmosphere at The Spires. The students show both an excitement to know the residents and build relationships with them, but also to serve them in ways that meet their passions. Whether it’s playing guitar for the residents during meals or leading resident groups on a guided hike, The Spires seeks to let the students express their passions as they serve the residents.
“It makes me weepy now that I get to see it all in person,” Steber shares. “These students are getting 100-300 more grandparents who love them as their own. I’ve told the football players we have on staff here that they will now have many more fans cheering them on during games.”
The students have taken on many roles from housekeeping, to serving, to teaching classes like art and fitness. These interactions give the residents and students a great deal of time to cultivate deep friendships.
“I was a little hesitant at first about students working here because I was worried that they’d have a hard time adjusting to older people, but I can’t say enough about these students. They are so kind and genuine,” Brenda Layfield, a resident at The Spires, says about the student employees. Brenda and her husband, Bob, bought into The Spires in August 2018.
“Living on the Berry College campus was a tremendous concept,” Brenda continues. “There’s such a large amount of things to do: we can participate in the theater, go to ball games, audit classes, and that encouraged us a lot.”
In addition to the many activities Berry College offers to the residents, The Spires has a wide variety of amenities and activities for the residents to enjoy, including an indoor saltwater swimming pool, a theater, a fitness room, an arts studio, a beauty salon and spa, and activities such as bocce ball and corn hole.
Although the residents and students are eager to spend time with one another, The Spires is taking many precautions in order to ensure the safety of everyone on-site.
“We were sitting on pins and needles wondering how moving in was going to happen, but they’ve done a great job of being safe and taking care of us,” Layfield adds.
The Spires has been limiting guests and visitors at this time as Georgia has continued the shelter-in-place for seniors. Each day, residents and staff have their temperature taken and are checked for symptoms, with the staff going through this process both upon arrival and as they leave. The residents are asked to sit a table apart from one another during meals and wear masks in all common area spaces.
And though these actions are targeted to prevent COVID-19, Steber says that some of the safety measures they are taking now have always been part of the plan in order to keep residents healthy, even when the pandemic is over. As a continuing care retirement community, The Spires is able to care for residents as age and complications affect their health during their time there.
The health center, The Spires’ space for assisted living, was made with special thought and care. The rooms look identical to the apartments on-site, ensuring that residents will have a smooth and comfortable transition into a new space that already feels familiar and comfortable.
“If my mom lives here, she has all the answers about how she’s going to live the rest of her life once she gets here. If your needs change, we do what we have to do to make sure you’re taken care of. When you’re moved to the health care building, it’s the same exact style of space as your previous apartment. We want them to still feel at home,” Steber says.
While many residents are Rome natives, there are quite a handful who are relocating to Rome because of what The Spires (and Rome itself) has to offer.
“We’re not just selling The Spires: we’re selling Rome, Berry College, and the Spires, and that trio is hard to say no to,” Steber adds.
The creation of The Spires has added an exciting opportunity for seniors and students alike. The staff and residents are hopeful and excited to see more residents gradually move into the available apartments and experience all that The Spires has to offer.