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At Oak Park, emphasis is on independent living

By Mark Wineka
mwineka@salisburypost.com
Imagine a three-deck cruise ship floating in the wheat fields and woodland just outside of Salisbury, and you have an idea of what Oak Park Retirement will be come August.
The 103,000-square-foot retirement community, located on a site of several hundred acres off Enon Church Road, will include 118 apartments ó studios, one- and two-bedroom units ó contained within a hotel-like three-story building.
The residents’ monthly rent encompasses three chef-prepared meals a day, weekly housekeeping and linen service, free transportation services, a library, chapel, exercise room, computer access, 100-channel cable television, game room, (six) laundry facilities, a screened in back porch and planned programming.
Scheduled to open in August, the operation will rely on about 25 full- and part-time employees, including two sets of couples who live at the retirement facility as managers, providing coverage around the clock.
A person’s rent includes all utilities except telephone. There is no buy-in fee or lease ó only the monthly rent, which will range from $1,595-$2,245 for studios; $2,295-$3,395 for one-bedrooms; and $3,295-$3,795 for two-bedrooms.
The 118 units offer 32 different layouts. Most of the units have an outside balcony or porch, many of which look onto the surrounding countryside.
“We’re not a cookie-cutter type building,” says Gene Nye, who with his wife, Diane, are rental managers for Oak Tree. They are working with the project four months before and four to six months after its opening before moving on.
Rick and Sue Eastham are one of the couples who will be resident managers, and the live-in managerial approach helps create what the couples call an extended family atmosphere throughout the facility.
The Oak Park community targets its apartments for people 55 and older. Eastham says typically only 15 to 20 percent of the residents are couples. Many of the residents come to be close to family yet still live on their own.
While all the amenities might give Oak Park the outward appearance of a cruise ship on land, the emphasis is on independent living.
That’s what Eastham likes best about these communities, owned and managed by Hawthorn Retirement Group.
“If you’re living here, this is your home,” he says. “You come and go as you please. What we’re all about is helping you keep your independence. … Nobody tells you what to do or when to do it.”
Oregon-based Colson & Colson, the contractor building Oak Park, has direct family ties to Hawthorn Retirement Group, based in Redmond, Ore. Hawthorn has retirement communities across the country and into Canada and Great Britain.
Each facility sets aside a few units as guest suites, allowing residents at Oak Park, for example, to stay up to seven days and nights (meals included) at other Hawthorn communities when they are traveling.
Oak Tree features a three-story central atrium, whose spokes lead to areas such as the grand dining/community room, served by a full commercial kitchen.
A wait staff serves residents at their tables. A wall in the dining area also will be devoted to a daylong coffee bar, which includes hot water for tea and hot chocolate.
Fresh fruit is available all the time, Gene Nye says, and a private dining room is offered for residents who want to have parties or receptions. (The room is free, but the outside guests would have to pay for their food.)
A flight up from the dining room, the game room will include a pool table, and places to play chess, checkers and cards.
Other spokes off the atrium lead to a beauty salon (not included in the rent), chapel, library, exercise room, activity room and more.
“We’re very big on wellness,” Eastham says. “It’s a pretty active group. That’s what we encourage.”
A full-time director will schedule planned activities for every day of the week, but again, residents are under no obligation to participate.
Oak Tree’s private bus service will be available to take residents on doctor and shopping trips or to run other errands. The community also will have 90 parking spaces and 12 private garages for the residents with vehicles.
Large chandeliers will hang in the atrium, dining room and front entrance, where mailboxes are located.
The residential wings feature wide halls. Apartments offer refrigerators, carpeting, ceiling fans, walk-in showers and emergency pull cords in every room.
“Lots of closets, too,” Nye says.
Eastham says the country site and all the acreage will allow the community to offer outside vegetable gardens, herb gardens, walking trails and other outside amenities.
Mark Owens, construction manager for the project, says he has seen deer and wild turkey several times since the project started last August.
What Eastham appreciates about the Hawthorn Retirement Group is how it always asks how decisions will affect the residents first.
“That’s the question that comes before the bottom line with this company,” Eastham says.
The property has a sales trailer on site, and George and Diana Nye are rental managers who are now taking reservations. They can be reached at 704-636-4600 and can schedule a tour of the facility.

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