Culver Garden Court progressing, say Liechty, Berger

If you’ve driven down South Main Street, you’ve likely seen the progress on Culver’s Garden Court senior housing facility there. Two of those centrally responsible for its arrival and construction here updated Culver’s Kiwanis Club recently on the project’s progress.
Kevin Berger, head of Culver’s Easterday Construction, the contracting entity on the project, said he’s been trying to get a Garden Court here for several years and through “five town managers,” with one of the issues being the lack of available land here at a workable price.
Other areas, such as Trinity Lutheran Church-owned, and Culver Academies-owned land were considered, but Berger said all were “marginal as far as water and sewer (availability).
“Culver’s been better over the last 10 years about extending its water and sewer (for future development). It was not good planning.”
However, said Berger, Garden Court was able to partner with property owner Wade McGee to utilize his land just off South Main, going through the town of Culver to extend water and sewer and annex not only McGee’s 30 acres, but 50 additional, zoned R2, which he said allows multi-family dwellings to be developed there.
“We’re hoping this will address Culver’s issues with housing,” he added, noting there’s hope some people currently living in Culver will take advantage of Garden Court, freeing up currently occupied housing in town.
Culver’s Garden Court is a HUD project, which means an inspector stops by the site every two weeks, in addition to Culver’s building inspector, and county and state inspectors looking over the work.
The new building, which will hold 13 units, has now been framed and concrete poured. Fighting against rain earlier in the spring, and more recently heat prohibiting laying roof shingles, hampered work a bit, said Berger, but “it’s starting to close up.
“It’s a nice, high site. We have probably a better detention basin system than the town requires. The architect designed the leech field to let water go; there’s no ditch or storm drain (but) a buried a stone bed at the edge of the property.”
The project is also “a bit greener than in the past,” he added, with California corners to cut down on studs for greater efficiency, among other attributes.
Easterday plans to “move fairly quickly from here on,” noted Berger. While the project has until February to be completed, it’s ideal to keep it from going through the winter.
In addition to the living units, he said, the building will have an office, community room, and laundry. Half the units will face Main Street, and half will face west, with a porch available for outdoor seating as desired.
The minimum age of residency is 62 years old, Berger explained, though an average Garden Court resident is an 85 year old widow.
Dr. Ron Liechty, president of Garden Court for the past 23 years, also addressed the club, noting this is the ninth facility for the non-profit venture, which stated 40 years ago “with a dream of creating housing for low-income people.”
The first Garden Court facility was built 40 years ago in Plymouth, with two more following in that community.
Today, Garden Court has 320 apartments in 11 facilities in three counties, with 182 people presently on waiting lists, Liechty said.
“So we’ve kept building. But we’ve built differently. We decided we would try to keep persons as close to home as possible, so we moved out into other communities: Bourbon, Knox, Mentone, and Argos. We tried here in Culver for 15 years -- that just emphasizes what Kevin said.”
Garden Court is run by a volunteer board with a development committee to investigate new sites, comprised of the president and vice president of the board, the group’s architect, attorney, consultant, and a representative of the management company which actually operates the facilities. Liechty said the group is already at work on a possible site in Nappanee.
Around $1.5 million in HUD funds go into a project Culver’s size, he noted, and the monies are paid back over 40 years through rent money.
Real Estate Management, based in South Bend, will handle operation, and will begin to interview potential residents 90 days before the facility opens up. Liechty said Culver’s Garden Court will be done by January.
“The last I heard, we have eight persons on the waiting list from Culver...whenever the building is turned over to us, within days the first people begin to move in.”
Most of the people on Garden Court’s waiting lists, he added, are in Plymouth.
“We try to build something we’d feel comfortable having our parents or grandparents, or ourselves, live in,” Liechty said of Garden Court’s overall approach to its efforts. “HUD has told us in the past to build a box to house seniors. We’ve done more than that. Our management company has received awards for the way they keep things up, so we’re proud to work with them and offer this kind of service.”