Weis Builders completes expansion of Smith Crossing in Orland Park

Smith Crossing expansion will help meet growing need, officials say Orland Park has growing population over 65

By Ashley Rueff, Chicago Tribune reporter
Article Dated: February 4, 2013

The expansion of Smith Crossing’s senior living community in Orland Park will help provide housing for the area’s aging population and meet the growing need for long-term care, local officials said during a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony for the $37 million project.

“Almost 20 percent of our population is now over 65, so this facility serves a great need,” Mayor Dan McLaughlin said during last week’s event at the facility.

According to 2010 U.S. Census data, 19.1 percent of the village’s population is 65 or older, and as the baby boomer generation ages, the percentage is expected to grow.

Will County Executive Larry Walsh said the number of seniors is growing across the area, joking that he’ll be joining the 65-plus crowd soon himself. “Within a month, I will be part of that 20 percent,” Walsh said at the site at 10501 Emilie Lane.

Smith Crossing is operated by Smith Senior Living, a long-time Chicago nonprofit with a mission to give seniors quality care. The Orland Park campus is one of the organization’s two continuing-care retirement communities that are designed to serve seniors no matter their level of need. The second,Smith Village, is in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood.

The Orland Park community, which offers independent, assisted and skilled-care living options, first opened its doors in November 2004. Within a few years, the wait list to move in had begun to grow and the organization’s board of trustees agreed to move forward with its second phase to expand.

“I’d say within the first three years or so, we started to see a wait list start to grow,” said Kevin McGee, CEO of Smith Senior Living.

Jim Fitch, a former Smith Senior Living board chairman and project manager who oversaw the expansion, estimates about 60 percent of residents at Smith Crossing come from Orland Park and Tinley Park.

Because those communities weathered the housing market crash better than others, he said seniors were still able to sell their homes, which kept demand high for Smith Crossing.

“We had a waiting list after Phase 1 of 30 people, so we thought it was a good time (to expand),” he said. “The rest of the economy was in the tank, so we had favorable financing rates and favorable contracting rates.”

Fitch, 82, and his wife, live in the community themselves. He retired in December after the expansion.

Even though the project wasn’t completed until December, some residents began moving into new independent-living spaces as early as October.

The community now has 173 independent-living apartments, 62 assisted-living spaces, and 46 skilledcare units. Officials said 47 of the new 76 independent-living units were filled in three months. Today, only 15 remain vacant.

“It’s been very exciting, it’s been a fast fill up,” McGee said.

All together, there are about 280 units in the community, and the residents have a guarantee of care for life under the Smith Senior Living commitment.

Residents make a hefty entrance fee when they move into the independent-living apartments, ranging from $185,000 to $365,000, plus all residents pay a monthly fee based on their accommodations, said CFO Raymond Marneris.

Monthly fees for independent-living units range from $2,172 to $3,509 for one and two bedrooms. To move into Smith Crossing, residents have to be 62.

If those in independent living reach a point where they can no longer pay their monthly fee, then the organization begins to draw down on their entrance fee to cover their expenses. If both their personal assets and their entrance fee are depleted, then the organization will continue to care for the resident and absorb the cost.

“We guarantee care for life when they move into this community, so if they have to move into assisted or skilled care (units), we guarantee no matter what, even if they run out of funds, they go out to our mission of charitable care,” Marneris said.

Last year, the Orland Park facility covered about $800,000 in charitable care expenses, he said. If residents don’t tap into their entrance fee while they’re in the community, then 90 percent of it is returned either to them if they leave, or to their estate.