Do you remember what was going on in your life 30 years ago? Back then, Emerald Heights only existed on paper.
We’re going for a walk down memory lane in this blog post, and we invite you to stroll along with us. Then, we’ll wrap it up with a peek at what’s in the works. Let’s get going, shall we?
In the late 1970s, when Whitney Corwin set the wheels in motion for what would eventually become Emerald Heights, older adults on the Eastside had to move to Seattle if they wanted to live in a senior community with lifetime care. Whitney, a retired businessman who lived in Bellevue, wanted to change that.
After touring retirement communities in Arizona, he came home and began talking about creating a non-profit Life Care community with colleagues at Bellevue Presbyterian Church, where he served as an elder.
Although several locations in Bellevue were considered, they didn’t pan out, and in 1987 the property here in Redmond was acquired. The site was prepared, financing was obtained and the groundbreaking ceremony was held on October 6, 1990.
Interest in the community was so high that 65% of the residences had already been sold by that point.
The occupancy permits came through just in the nick of time — on September 29, 1992 — and the first 36 residents moved into Emerald Heights, as planned, on October 1.
The earliest residents had to “rough it” awhile as the rest of the buildings were completed, the remaining roads were paved and sidewalks were added. The original pool and fitness center opened in November, and all of the cottages were ready for residents to move in by January 1993.
From the start, residents were happy to volunteer. Some showed prospective residents around the community and helped with move-ins. Others took turns in reception. One resident, a retired doctor, received training at Greyhound and then volunteered to drive the Emerald Heights bus!
Fortunately, as operating funds increased, so did the staff, and those early volunteers were able to focus their time and energy elsewhere — like the library, store, workshop, craft room and their crowning achievement, the Nature Trail.
Another focal point for volunteerism was — and still is — the Benevolence Fund, which the board established in 1994. The fund provides confidential financial assistance to residents in need. Through the decades, Emerald Heights residents have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Benevolence Fund to help their neighbors.
Pulling together the way those early residents did created a powerful sense of community that has become one of Emerald Heights’ defining (and most endearing) attributes.
By January 1995, a little over two years since the first residents moved in, 93% of the residences were occupied.
The monthly fee at the time included one meal a day — lunch or dinner. With the lion’s share of residents choosing dinner (as much for the opportunity to socialize as for the food), it became evident that the dining room would need to be expanded.
That project, the first of many expansions, was finished in early 1996. In the meantime, the Nature Trail had officially opened with much ballyhoo in September and our in-house TV station, KHTS, began broadcasting that same month.
In December 1996, we received one of our earliest accolades: New Choices magazine named Emerald Heights among the Top 20 Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) in the country.
A little over a year later, in January 1998, we were awarded accreditation by the Continuing Care Accreditation Commission.
The waitlist for homes at Emerald Heights started in 1996. When the board brought up the possibility of adding new apartments, residents voiced their concerns that the community’s facilities would be overcrowded.
The board and management took heed. They hired experts to evaluate the options, and by early 2001 the Emerald Heights Preferred Future Plan had been created. Residents were invited to forums to learn more about the proposed $13.3 million expansion of the Corwin Center and 17 additional apartments. Work began on those projects in January 2003.
While the new apartments pared down the waitlist, they weren’t enough to meet demand. In December 2004, we began a feasibility study on developing a second campus. Four and a half years later, the board was presented with a master plan, leading to the construction of a new fitness center, health clinic and chapel, as well as the new Emerald Room and Pavilion, between 2011 and 2013.
In June 2013, we started construction to introduce three dining venues, which were ready for residents to enjoy by November. We also broke ground on 43 new Trailside apartments, which were completed in 2014.
We now have about 550 residents at Emerald Heights, and another waitlist. Once again, we’re adding more homes — and that’s not all! Here’s a look at what’s on the horizon.
Within the next month, we’ll be starting construction on 42 new independent living residences. Already, 95% of them have been reserved. If all goes according to plan, they should be ready for occupancy in early 2024.
We discovered during the pandemic that residents appreciate the convenience of “grab and go” meals, so we’re planning to open a bistro-style restaurant. The menu will feature fresh soups, sandwiches and other items for quick pick up or easy dining on the premises. Our goal is to have this new restaurant open next spring.
We’re planning to start construction on 54 new one-bedroom assisted living apartments next fall. They’ll be located on the east side of our campus and connected to the main building by a sky bridge. The targeted completion is in late 2024.
When those homes are finished, residents in the existing 40 studio assisted living apartments will move into them. The studios and the semi-private skilled nursing rooms will then be remodeled so that all accommodations in the Corwin Center will be private rooms.
Last year, we began beautifying our existing buildings with new façades. The new exteriors have a more contemporary look that complements our stunning natural surroundings.
Although supply chain issues and contractors’ labor shortages have slowed progress on this project, it should be done early in 2023. Based on what we’re seeing so far, it’ll be well worth the wait!
As our community has expanded to meet the increased demand in Redmond for high-quality senior living options, Emerald Heights has also evolved in other ways. After all, the Emerald Heights lifestyle is much more than a maintenance-free home and convenient services.
Our fitness staff and programs are a good example. Back in 1992, one person developed and led all of the exercise classes and other fitness activities. Over the years, residents have shown us that fitness is a priority for them, not only through class participation but also through the popularity of personal training sessions. Today, we have four full-time staff members in that area.
Dining is another program we’ve adapted in response to residents’ preferences. As we noted earlier, we originally included one meal a day in the monthly fee. A few years ago, we gave everyone the choice to continue that meal allowance or carve it out of the monthly fee and use the dining services a la carte. An estimated 80% of residents chose to switch.
Perhaps the most gratifying evolution is the growth in resident-led activities. While the Resident Council has been active since the early days, working closely with the board and executive team to ensure the community thrives, other resident groups have formed along the way, as new people move to Emerald Heights and inspire their neighbors to explore new interests. Currently, more than 40 groups meet on a regular basis.
As enjoyable as it is to reflect on the past and observe how far we’ve come, we’re constantly planning for the future.
“The danger is, as a community, you get comfortable,” said Kay Wallin, Emerald Heights’ Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations. “Your residents are happy. They like things exactly as they are. It would be easy to just let it go until you’re forced to make changes. We know that the better practice is to do those renovations and refurbishments and make those necessary changes well before we reach that point.”
“Emerald Heights isn’t an organization that stands still. We’re always wanting to be fresh. We’re always wanting to be current,” Kay said. “And that’s because we want to be sure we’re going to meet the needs of those who come to live with us in the future, as well as those who are here today.”
If our community sounds like the kind of place you’d like to call home, we invite you to come experience what it’s like in person. Contact us and we’ll set up a convenient time to visit. If you prefer a virtual visit, we can help you with that too.