Gypsy Hill Place: On pace
Story by Chris Graham
Talk about ambitious. Charlottesville-based Octagon Partners gave itself 10 months to rehab the old R.E. Lee High School on Churchville Avenue into senior housing and new spaces for ShenanArts and the Staunton Senior Center. And Octagon and general contractor Mathers Construction of Waynesboro are coming in a little ahead of schedule in spite of a brutal winter weather season that put a number of local projects on hold for long stretches.
“An important part of this is we’re not building something from scratch, so we didn’t have to come in and lay a new foundation. A lot of the original piping at least coming into the building was in place. The stormwater drainage and those things that need to be updated already had a foundation. So we weren’t recreating the wheel. We were just working within an existing structure. It would have taken much longer if we were literally breaking ground and starting from scratch,” said Dave Taibl, the general manager at Gypsy Hill Place, which is on schedule to get its occupancy permit on June 14.
Residents are due to begin moving in toward the end of June. ShenanArts is already moving into its space with plans for a grand-opening gala in July and its opening show at Gypsy Hill Place in August. The Staunton Senior Center will be moving into its space beginning July 1 with plans for a formal move of its daily operations from its current home on the premises of Third Presbyterian Church on Barterbrook Road on Oct. 1.
“We’re realizing a dream,” said Jennifer Chestnut, the regional manager for Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro at the Valley Program for Aging Services, which runs the Staunton Senior Center. “We’ve wanted this for so long. We wanted to be able to make the Center more than what it currently is, and we could never do that within the walls that we currently have right now.
“We’ve waited years for this opportunity, and now our dream has become a reality,” Chestnut said.
Octagon Partners brought the Senior Center and ShenanArts on board as community partners in part to fill a need with its financing being done in part through federal New Markets Tax Credits. The public-private partnerships forged are paying off for all involved.
“If we were to take over a vacant space, we’re looking at a minimum of half a million dollars to renovate and put a space together,” said Mike Conner, the chairman of the board of directors of ShenanArts, a community theater and theater-education nonprofit, which is currently working on a $125,000 capital campaign to provide a kitty of money to outfit its space at Gypsy Hill Place to its specifications.
ShenanArts has plenty to work with toward that goal. “The bones of this space are good,” Conner said. “We have seats, we have a stage, we have everything we need. We just need to polish and clean and dress it up. So that was a big savings for us.”
The Staunton Senior Center is working on an $80,000 Opening the Doors capital campaign as part of its move. A focal point to the campaign will be purchasing dividers so that the Center can hold simultaneous events, classes and seminars in the new space.
“We want to make that a very inviting space,” Center director Lynn Harris said. “We want people to see full bookshelves and comfortable furniture. Lots of light from all of the windows. Nice paintings on the wall, hopefully from local artists.
“There’s a group that goes down to Hardee’s every morning. They go to Hardee’s, have their coffee, spend about an hour there every morning. My hope is that we’ll have folks who come to the Center, pick up their coffee, have an energy bar or something, read the paper, talk with friends, meet before they go walking at the park. This is my dream,” Harris said.
Taibl has a dream of his own that is just as ambitious as the construction schedule. He’d love to have all 62 of the senior apartments available at Gypsy Hill Place rented by the move-in date in late June.
“They’re all pretty unique in their layout. We’re trying to mesh the type of unit that a resident needs for their lifestyle with a comprehensive community that has a common theme. This is very interesting for the resident who want to use their apartment as a launch pad for other things who also wants to be able to access all the programming, all the meals, all the things that Gypsy Hill Place has to offer,” Taibl said by way of giving a sales pitch.
Studio apartments begin at $1,600 a month. The most expensive two-bedroom apartment is $4,100 a month.
“The initial sticker shock for some of our interested parties is because it’s greater than your typical apartment rent. But once we have an opportunity to explain all the amenities that are included in their monthly rent, including all utilities, pretty much every aspect of the programming as well as 14 meals each week, restaurant-style, it makes more sense. They start to add up what they spend on a mortgage, trips to the grocery store, what they pay for a health-club membership and all of those other things that they currently don’t have, and it begins to make sense,” Taibl said.