- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2007

Retirees who like living near college campuses say they enjoy the lifestyle that comes with having a higher education institution nearby. It brings new meaning to the term senior class. Older Americans drawn to campus life include alumni, retired faculty as well as seniors just looking for a university environment.

Sharon Matthews lives about 1½ miles from the University of Maryland in College Park. She moved to the neighborhood about 20 years ago to attend graduate school and decided to stay in the area. Her home is about a 15-minute walk from campus.

“Now I have more time to take advantage of the benefits and nonacademic activities,” Ms. Matthews says. As a senior, she qualifies for free courses. Her only cost is the registration fee.

She takes various art courses including sculpture, metal casting, art history, lithography and painting. “I also like the idea of being able to use the pool facilities,” Ms. Matthews says.

Housing developments for the 55-and-older population are sprouting up near colleges all over the country to satisfy those who don’t already own a home near a college campus.

“We do have more and more of that kind of housing,” says AARP’s Elinor Ginzler. “There are more people aging in this demographic and a lot more living options.”

Just minutes away from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville is the Colonnades, a senior housing community that gives residents an opportunity to participate in campus life by taking classes or attending sporting and cultural events.

In addition to putting its name on the project, the university donated the land and provided alumni lists for marketing purposes when the Colonnades opened in 1991.

Ms. Ginzler says the fascinating thing about university-based housing is that it helps to break down the myth that all seniors want to live in warm climates.

She says that there are some successful housing developments for older adults near Purdue University in Indiana, and there’s one based in New York near Ithaca College and Cornell University that she says is “wildly popular.”

The Kendal Corp. (www. kendal.org) offers college- related retirement communities, including the one in Ithaca. Kendal at Lexington is a retirement community in the Shenandoah Valley near Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute. Residents attend campus lectures, take classes and enjoy performances by graduate students or world-renowned artists.

Campus Continuum (www. campuscontinuum.com) specializes in developing and operating university-branded 55-plus active adult housing developments. The Newton, Mass.-based company, founded two years ago, is conducting exploratory discussions with higher education institutions throughout the country.

Currently working on a housing project at Juniata College in Pennsylvania, Campus Continuum will have a dean of programs to coordinate relations between residents and the college. Gerard Badler, Campus Continuum managing director, says most existing university-affiliated retirement communities have an average age of about 84 because they are continuing-care retirement communities. Residents at planned Campus Continuum projects will be younger, he says.

“The United States is about to enter a kind of energy crisis, in reverse. About 77 million baby boomers will soon be retiring, or semiretiring, and most are wondering what are they going to do with themselves,” Mr. Badler says.

“Many are in good health and are looking for a lifestyle that combines interesting intellectual, social and volunteer opportunities,” Mr. Badler says. “Living in a golf course community or lying on a beach doesn’t fit their needs over the long term.”

Margaret Wylde, president and CEO of ProMatura (www.promatura.com), a research company that studies developers and businesses in relation to the 50-and-older community, said that some older adults may not be interested in taking classes but choose to purchase a home in the area because of what the university brings to the community.

“It’s not just for all of the events and sports, but also art and cultural opportunities,” said Ms. Wylde. “Many recognize that where you have a university, you have a higher income, more restaurants and a greater level of diversity.”

It doesn’t hurt that many universities are linked with renowned medical facilities and the ancillary businesses that come with them.

Matt Zanolli, a Realtor with Long & Foster’s Woodley Park office says seniors enjoy the advantages afforded by the supporting infrastructure surrounding these institutions, such as multiple transportation options, nearby shopping and dining venues.

“Keep in mind the ‘walkability’ traditionally associated with urban campuses is a major amenity,” Mr. Zanolli says.

That appeals to Ms. Matthews, who likes the amenities associated with the College Park campus, such as health-oriented stores and “Kinko’s, restaurants of all types, and an assortment of bookstores that wouldn’t be there if it were not for the school.”

Having access to the university library, student union and sports facilities are some additional benefits of living near a university campus that Ms. Matthews enjoys.

Ms. Wylde, whose company is based in Oxford, Miss., says she knows of one couple who purchased a home near Oxford University because that is where their children attended school and they often come back home for football games.

The National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) is aware of this trend. Jeffrey Jenkins of the NHAB 50-plus Housing Council says he knows of several communities being built near college campuses.

“I think that the opportunity to become part of a community of lifelong learners is very attractive to a segment of today’s and tomorrow’s retirees,”says Campus Continuum’s Mr. Badler.

Colleges benefit from seniors, too. Through the campus-affiliated housing developments, Ms. Wylde says colleges hope to recapture donations from retirees and alumni.

In addition to offering a new source of revenue through the sale or lease of university land and fees, Mr. Badler says that seniors bring a wealth of lifetime experiences and education to classroom discussions.

“Colleges and universities are beginning to recognize the tremendous nonfinancial value of having a few gray-haired folks around the campus,” Mr. Badler says. “They can act as mentors, counselors and tutors to younger students.”

They also provide experienced volunteer help to things like student clubs and the college newspaper.

Ms. Matthews says that although parking and the aftermath of losing or winning a big game can cause issues, the pros far outweigh the cons when it comes to living near a university. She likes being around the creative folks in her University of Maryland community.

Warren Bland, a nationally recognized expert on retirement towns, released a “Top Ten College Towns for Retirement” list this year using criteria such as the quality of life, cost of living, transportation, retail services, health care, cultural and volunteer activities and crime.

Mr. Bland listed the top 10 as Boulder, Colo.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; Madison, Wis.; Gainesville, Fla.; Oxford, Miss.; Charlottesville, Va.; Eugene, Ore.; Fayetteville, Ark.; Ithaca, N.Y.; and Bloomington, Ind.

Mr. Zanolli says home values near colleges are consistent with the area.

“Market value continues to be very strong in neighborhoods such as American University Park, Georgetown and Foggy Bottom, where local universities play a pivotal role,” he says.

As with any real estate transaction, Realtors advise seniors to research their prospective neighborhood to determine if it is the best choice for them.

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