Now This Is Local Lumber Sourcing

DSC_0172Warm Hearth Village in Blacksburg is a nonprofit senior living community established in 1974 by a Virginia Tech agronomist, Wybe Kroontje and his wife Marietje, who were inspired to create a community where retired people could live surrounded by natural beauty and every resident would receive the respect and dignity deserved of a long life and the wisdom that comes with it.

The Kroontjes put their long-term plan on a 100-year scale, which continues to be a potent force in guiding the community as it grows, says President and Chief Executive Officer Ferne Moschella. The latest addition is the Village Center, a 16,300-sf timber-framed structure designed by Summit Studio.

IMG_3166Summit Founding President Mark C. McConnel, AIA, LEED-AP, used his background in sustainable design to design and specify for the Village Center, although Warm Hearth did not seek LEED certification. “After some initial discussion, the client decided to use the money that would have entailed and devote it instead to the very tight design and construction budget,” McConnel says.

IMG_2803For local sourcing of the considerable amount of structural timber and finish wood, the design team turned first to the Center grounds and adjacent woods on the 220-acre property. To cause minimal harm to the land, the logger used draft horses rather than tractors to move logs from where they fell to a portable mill on site.

In addition to the beam material that came from the Warm Hearth property, a village board member donated 18 very large trees from his property in an adjacent county , says Warm Hearth Project Manager Sara McCarter, whose background includes an architecture degree from Virginia Tech. The logs were milled on site and finished nearby. The side lumber went to a kiln and processor, also in the area, for running trim, benches, vanities, and flooring, she says.

“The team who harvested the wood uses “worst first” logging based on the life cycle of the forest,” McCarter says. “They can tell which individual trees are in distress and cut those first. They will not cut trees obviously inhabited by wildlife.”

At the Center is community

D13063-1990_01In very early stages of planning for a Village Center, the leadership was considering requiring a membership for access to the center, its pool, exercise room, and other amenities, Moschella remembers. The village has three HUD Section 8 subsidized apartment buildings, townhomes, and a section of fairly substantial single-family homes. In discussions there was a feeling among the residents that such a policy would push the community apart.

The final decision—based on the Kroontjes’ founding goals of mobility, accessibility, and affordability—was to make all parts of the center open to all 550 residents of the village. Staff use the facility, too, which forms even stronger bonds between them and the residents.

The hope was to transform the residents’ lifestyle by giving them a place to walk to and an opportunity to get both social and physical engagement. The results have been amazing, Moschella says. “The residents are coming out in droves. They’re beyond thinking it’s wonderful and it is working beyond out expectations,” she says. “I asked one woman how she like it and she said: ‘It makes me feel great.’ Her husband responded to her: ‘And that makes me feel great.’”

Expansion is part of the plan

DSC_0230The Village Center was part of the original plan, and the location was indicated, McConnel says. The plan, being far-reaching, was nonetheless very flexible. And the siting of the center was based on a number of factors, not the least of which is that it serves as the focal welcoming point to the community, with, as it turned out, a boulder excavated during site preparation serving as an entryway beacon, he says.

Through well over 100 meetings took place from pre-design through construction administration, the design/owner/constructor team worked with the residents to identify amenities. Despite a tight budget, the only amenity that the client couldn’t justify within the budget was a bistro. To provide food service, McConnel was able to work in a café.

Storage space is always a problem, McCarter says, but the design was able to put a heat recovery system (“not quite as big as my Prius”) in an interior space. In fact, with the 27 geothermal wells beneath the front parking area, there is no exterior mechanical equipment. Residents can use all of the outdoor area surrounding the building, Moschella points out.

And because the steel-reinforced timber frame structure is modular in plan, expansion of the building can be readily accomplished, McConnel says. There is no plan yet for an expansion, although McCarter says too that after having their first performances in the community room, the staff would also consider back-of-house staging space as another item  on a future wish list.

Part of hopes for expansion are reduced operating expenses. In addition to the heat exchange systems mentioned, the building features thermally tight enclosures and windows, careful orientation to the sun, natural lighting, instant hot-water heaters, low-flow fixtures, high-recycled-content carpet, no VOCs, and indigenous plantings.

Part of the expansion also is identification of new service opportunities for a burgeoning retirement-age population. Warm Hearth continues to reassess its role in serving this demographic, Moschella says. And one factor that the board sees is a strong desire by some to age in place. Having Virginia Tech’s building research facilities nearby has already been of great help in planning and operating the village, all agree, and that extends to its research into retrofitting existing homes. Warm Hearth is already helping people beyond the physical facility by providing in-home services in surrounding areas, Moschella says.

As good as it can be

DSC_0119Nearby Blacksburg and Christiansburg offer additional extensions of the Warm Hearth Village, such as shopping and entertainment. A transportation system accommodates that to some extent, and an expansion that includes transportation within the complex is another resource-conserving convenience that the Warm Hearth staff are working to expand.

The goal isn’t for the community to be good enough, it is to be as good as it can be, Moschella affirms. To that end, she says of the architect: “Mark may have gotten into more than he signed on for.”

“We met with Virginia Tech’s Myers Lawson School of Construction, and during those talks Mark rethought his approach to getting optimal solar orientation and he went back to the drawing table,” McCarter says. “It was already a great design, but he was resolved to make it better.”

“Yes,” McConnel says, “I chose to do a complete redesign for no additional compensation. From the interior detailing and space adjacencies to the building’s performance and presence within the community, I thought it was important to do it right.”

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