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Groton - A well-known nursing home in Groton is breaking ground on Saturday for a development of 23 single-family homes, part of a larger plan to create a retirement community along the Thames River.
"There's a huge need for it. A huge need," said Hank Lucas, president of the Odd Fellows Home of Connecticut Inc., which does business as Fairview.
He added, "The baby boomers are just beginning to reach retirement age ... and they have to have a place to live."
The Odd Fellows Home property covers 70 acres along the Thames River across from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Fairview is known now for its 120-bed skilled nursing facility, but it also has a building with 20 one- and two-bedroom apartments and a cottage with four apartments for people living independently.
The new plan would expand this into a campus of single-family homes. The idea is to create a place where seniors can buy into the community, live in a house there as long as they want, get care in that house if they need it, and be guaranteed care in the nursing facility if and when they need that.
The nonprofit Odd Fellows Home has sold the buy-in rights for 60 percent of the houses in the development, called "Thames Edge," although construction remains two weeks away.
"People have sold their homes already," said James Rosenman, chief executive officer of Fairview. "They're in apartments. They're ready to move in."
Here's how the retirement community would work: People would "buy in" to live there, be guaranteed care, and pay a monthly service fee to have their house maintained.
Costs vary: Residents could "buy in" for a lesser amount, such as $70,000, and pay a higher monthly fee of $2,500; or they could buy in for a larger amount, such as $250,000, pay a lower monthly fee of $1,250, and have 90 percent of the $250,000 deposit returned once they left.
Either way, they could live in a house. They wouldn't own the house but would be given lifetime use of it. Fairview would own the house and appliances, take care of inside and outside maintenance, and cover the utilities.
Rosenman said that's been a main draw.
"They don't have to worry about paying the utility bill, and they don't have to worry about ice dams on the roof anymore," he said.
Thames Edge would include the houses, a green and clubhouse with a pool, fitness area and dining facilities. The goal is to finish construction by July 2014.
The development is part of a larger master plan that includes four phases of construction, all of which have zoning approval from the town.
The second phase of building would include 16 to 17 homes, depending on the design. The third phase was initially planned as a 197-unit apartment complex, but Rosenman said that would probably change.
"We just don't know how appropriate it is for the campus," he said. A smaller apartment building and more homes might be built instead.
The final phase of construction would add about 30 more houses, although the number is still being discussed.
"We plan to just build the units as they're sold," Lucas said. "We're not building them for speculation. We're building as they're wanted."
From a business perspective, Rosenman said the new construction would help Fairview accomplish its mission. As Medicaid reimbursements decline, the company would be able to use money from the sales to maintain the level of nursing care in its facility.
Lucas said it would also give older people a place to live and find continuing care.
"This is, we think, the highest and best use of this property," he said. "And it's good for the whole community."