Improving the Lives of Seniors

Community Living Solutions
Written by Robert Hoshowsky

Community Living Solutions was established in 2007 and operates with the goal of ‘creating, transforming and sustaining senior living communities throughout Wisconsin.’ While other companies construct senior residences and assisted living facilities, Community Living Solutions is one of the only companies in the Midwest to focus its expertise on homes for the elderly.
Working with seniors and persons in assisted living requires not only compassion but making their lives as vibrant as possible. As experts in the design and construction of senior living and assisted living facilities, the talented team at Community Living Solutions, LLC (CLS) strives to create residences which are highly functional and provide an attractive and uplifting place in which to live.

“When we created Community Living Solutions, we said we were going to learn this industry, and people are going to seek us out for what we know and ultimately appreciate what we actually bring to the table,” says Duane Helwig, vice president of design. “And it has resulted in a lot of repeat business for us and a lot of word-of-mouth recommendations, and people really do appreciate that we are professionals in the industry, and they pay for our service.”

Community Living Solutions has carved a well-earned and respected niche for itself in the market. Although the company has competition, it is mainly from firms that spread skills over different markets. Unlike those businesses, Community Living Solutions remains focused specifically on senior living design, and so its knowledge is unparalleled.

Helwig has been a licensed architect since 2000 and has spent the majority of his professional career in the senior living industry. Working for two other design-build firms between 2000 and 2007 as a project architect and design department leader, Helwig has served as lead designer or contributor on over seventy-five senior living developments over the last fifteen years, ranging from independent living retirement homes and apartments to assisted living facilities and nursing home facilities.

Community Living Solutions was co-founded by Terry McLaughlin, an architect with over twenty-five years of experience in the design of senior living facilities and Tom Martin, an engineer and construction manager. Today, McLaughlin is the company’s chairperson; Martin serves as president and Helwig was brought on board at the inception of the company as a partner and vice president of design.

“CLS was the realization of a vision that was established more than twenty-five years ago,” says McLaughlin. “My co-founding partner, Tom Martin, PE, and I worked on our first project together in 1989, and over the many years since have established a kinship and affinity for a unique approach to design and construction services. In early 2007, Tom and I brought our vision for a dynamic, solution-oriented, legacy company focusing exclusively on bringing the senior living industry to reality.”

Over the decades, senior living and assisted living facilities have changed immensely. In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a boom in nursing home development across the United States. Today, many of these homes are aging and in need of repair or renovation, with some of them remaining largely untouched for forty years or more. These restorations account for a considerable amount of work for Community Living Solutions.

As a design/build specialist company, CLS prefers to become involved as early in the process as possible to better enable its team of experts to implement their industry experience. By partnering exclusively with senior living providers, the company ensures a wealth of experience and resources other firms simply cannot provide.

CLS has provided a range of planning, design, construction and development services for over one hundred senior living projects. All projects begin with a vision, which is followed by consensus-building and a financial feasibility study. CLS then provides architectural design, interior design, construction, marketing consultation and more. CLS also has the design skills and expertise necessary to construct green buildings with sustainable design and construction practices.

Community Living Solutions has amassed a large portfolio over of assisted living, community-based residential facilities, skilled nursing, residential care apartment complexes, senior service centres and memory care facilities over the years. Clients include the Grace Lutheran Foundation, Schmitt Woodland Hills, Iola Living Assistance, Attic Angel, Sheboygan Retirement Community, Hayward Senior Services, United Pioneer Home, Spring Valley Health and Rehabilitation Center, Bridges of Ankeny, Christian Community Homes and Hawkeye Dubuque.

“Each of these facilities’ journey began with a master plan engagement and/or campus repositioning lead by Community Living Solutions, LLC,” comments McLaughlin. “Our corporate goal is clear. We are not striving to be the largest senior living planning, design, construction and project management firm in the Midwest; rather, we partner with senior living providers to find sustainable business solutions to serve their community and further their mission.”

From its headquarters in Appleton, Wisconsin and other office location in Des Moines, Iowa, the company is able to serve most of the Midwest states effectively and has completed projects throughout Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri, with clients from outside the Midwest occasionally seeking out its services.

Among the company’s many projects are the Attic Angel Rehab Center and Assisted Living Addition, the St. Paul Elder Services Rehab Center and Memory Care Additions and the Grace Lutheran Foundation Skilled Nursing Facility. Each of these Wisconsin projects presented its own challenges, which the team at Community Living Solutions was able to overcome with the utmost professionalism.

The Attic Angel Rehab Center and Assisted Living addition and renovations saw 54,000 square feet of space added, resulting in an additional fourteen beds of private skilled nursing rooms dedicated to short-term rehabilitation residents and twenty-four apartments dedicated to assisted living. Since the location was a relatively confined urban site surrounded by a residential neighborhood, the project presented a number of challenges, such as how to fit the requirements into a relatively small space without negatively affecting existing resident rooms and apartments. The solution was to create an internal courtyard that provides a secure outdoor space for the enjoyment of residents while retaining views of the outdoor environment for both the existing building and the addition.

“Connectivity between the existing building and the new addition was essential for staff efficiency, so we provided a solution that connects to the existing building in three locations, one of which is a heavily-used one-story walkway that bisects the courtyard,” says Helwig. “The three-storey addition matches the height of the existing building but is located more closely to the neighbors across the street, so we employed a flat roof design solution that stayed architecturally contextual with the existing pitched roof building while minimizing the height impact for the nearby neighbors.”

For the St. Paul Elder Services Rehab Center and Memory Care addition, CLS was responsible for the creation of twenty-four private residence suites in the memory care section and a skilled nursing rehabilitation centre addition of thirteen private suites. Other spaces within the existing nursing home were also renovated. A larger chapel space was created, the dining room was renovated, and new pods on the household wings and a more inviting entrance lobby with porte cochère were added.

The existing nursing home more closely resembled a medical facility than a home-like environment. To create a more inviting atmosphere, CLS eliminated the existing nursing station and created a warm hearth area where residents can gather for social activities.

“We also replaced light fixtures and finishes in the existing building to make it feel more like a home,” says Helwig. Another challenge was the site itself; it was confined by residential properties on either side and had a significant grade. “We were able to fit the buildings on the site and then use the topography to our advantage by creating additional community space in the basement of the facility.”

With the Grace Lutheran Foundation Skilled Nursing Facility project, the company was entrusted with creating a replacement nursing facility consisting of forty-eight short-term care beds and a fifty-bed long-term care facility with a total of 85,110 square feet. CLS created a warm and inviting environment supporting health, wellness and entertainment that meets the spiritual and social needs of the community. Along with formal and informal dining areas, the project saw the creation of a state-of-the-art therapy, wellness and rehabilitation suite, a commons area for community gatherings and education, a bistro, a chapel and gift and salon services. To further complement the appearance, the company used varying colors and building materials and scale to create more of a residential setting.

Community Living Solutions designs assisted-living facilities with residents in mind. Many have limited mobility due to frailty, while some have dementia or are confined to a wheelchair. Others may need assistance with the day-to-day activities many of us take for granted, such as bathing and dressing. As a result, facilities must accommodate residents in an environment which is functional, yet resembles a home rather than a hospital.

CLS belongs to several industry associations and maintains knowledge of governmental regulations surrounding nursing homes and assisted living facilities to create creative solutions which meet codes and make care environments feel truly like home.

“The senior living industry is constantly evolving with new regulatory and financial challenges on one side and new, improved innovations and trends on the other side,” says Helwig. “We strive to stay informed of all the latest developments so we can help educate our clients, not the other way around. Every industry challenge, whether it’s new regulations or a change in government reimbursements is an opportunity to present unique solutions to our clients’ problems that they may not have thought of themselves. This is how we continue to find more business and proving our worth to our present and future clients.”

Much of the company’s success comes from the people it hires. The company has a dedicated staff of twenty: ten in architectural design and production, seven in construction management and three in office administration, marketing and business development. “Culture fit is a really big attribute for us,” says Duane Helwig. New employees must be passionate about the type of work that the company does. “We’ve had a couple of qualified employees turn us down because they didn’t want to focus just on one industry. So does take a special person that feels like we are doing something special here to want to be part of that.”

The company has grown through the establishment of lasting and meaningful relationships with the organizations it serves, and the team at CLS is committed to combining its specialized experience with the expertise of the client’s leadership team, staff, board of trustees, residents and families to create an ideal result.

“Our collective knowledge will lead to a sustainable business solution that will ensure the long-term viability of this project while also respecting the dignity and encouraging the independence of the older adults served,” comments McLaughlin. “We listen, we learn and we work with you to create a holistic environment where people thrive. Together, we will create an environment that celebrates life!”



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