Growing as they grow old

Retirement communities near college campuses offer residents college-level classes and other advantages of university living - for life.

By Robert N. Jenkins, LifeTimes Editor
Published August 28, 2007

GAINESVILLE - "Our residents are seeking a purposeful life," says Sara Lynn McCrea, dean of residents at Oak Hammock, a residential community for people at least 55 years old that is affiliated with the University of Florida.

"Many have had careers in education, others have been CEOs. Going to the college-level classes (at Oak Hammock) keeps their minds active, broadens their horizons."

Oak Hammock is what is termed a Continuing Care Retirement Community. Perhaps 60 of them have been built on or near college campuses in the past two decades, totaling thousands of living units.

Beyond the educational offerings, campuses attract touring performers and lecturers; there is an ambience of vitality and culture. And there is often a small-town feel that mixes nostalgia for a different age with new trends in food and retail stores.

Oak Hammock opened in March 2004 and has 269 independent living residences ranging from one to three bedrooms, including townhomes. The occupancy is at 95 percent, with 348 residents in those units. There is also extended nursing care on the 136-acre site, about a mile from the university campus.

Depending on the floor plan and square footage, the waiting list ranges from two to five years and prices run from $132,000 to $537,000.

But the residents have not purchased the property: They have bought the right to inhabit a unit and to receive lifelong medical care on-site.

"They move in happy and independent," said McCrea, who is also the director of community services. "They move to the health care facilities as life events happen."

She estimated the residents' median age is 73.

Educational facilities include three classrooms that can handle 80 to 90 people, and two auditoriums, seating up to 150.

Sign-up is on a first-come, first-served basis, and it is also open to the Gainesville community. While about 60 percent of Oak Hammock's residents will take some classes, about 140 nonresidents were enrolled in the summer semester.

Annual dues to attend classes are $25, with additional fees of $20 for a six- or seven-week series of 90-minute classes. Most are taught by university faculty donating their time.

"So many of the professors tell us they enjoy spending the time to stand in front of people who truly are interested in the course, not just students required to take the class," said McCrea.

Academic topics range from Russian literature to fiction writing, from the history of the planet to creativity as a means of survival during the Holocaust.

"Members also will ask us to post a notice for those interested in flower-arranging classes, a book club, watercolor painting, needlework or woodworking," added former St. Petersburg resident McCrea. "The residents run those themselves."

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Check it out

For more on Oak Hammock, go to www.oakhammock.org.