By Dave DeWitte

IOWA CITY – The Oaknoll Life Care Community’s new Spring Street Addition slated for completion next year answered many questions for the growing community of retirees, including one question nobody thought to ask: How do you get a $1 million energy rebate?

The green features in the project will result in a projected $900,000 to $1 million rebate from MidAmerican Energy, one of the larger rebates ever rewarded under the utility rebate program.

The $42-million project, which will house 73 residential apartments for retirees, was designed around green principles.

Just about every electric light in the facility will be a light-emitting diode (LED), which uses a fraction of the energy of an incandescent or compact fluorescent bulb. A super-efficient geothermal heating system will supply the residents with comfortable radiant floor heat.

Parking was placed under the six-floor building to reduce water runoff and the need for maintenance like snow shoveling and leaf blowing.

Oaknoll Executive Director Patricia Heiden says it wasn’t difficult to embrace the green ideas because they will add comfort for residents and lower operating costs at the same time they save energy.

The project was designed by Shive-Hattery Inc., which has now worked with Oaknoll on several major projects, including an addition seven years ago that incorporated green features. Ideas for improving the energy performance of the Spring Street addition were developed in close collaboration with the Weidt Group, a Des Moines-based energy company that has consulted with clients on more than 2,000 construction projects.

“It was just a real comfortable conversation about our commitment,” Ms. Heiden said. The proposals were accepted by Oaknoll’s board of directors with very little resistance, she added.

Oaknoll is one of the state’s largest Life Care communities. The concept allows residents to enjoy a continuum of care from fully independent living, to assisted living, to nursing care after paying a sizable initial deposit. Residents also pay a monthly maintenance fee. As part of the Spring Street project, Oaknoll plans to apply for a certificate of need to add 10 private health center rooms.

The population of more than 300 residents includes a cross-section of Iowa City area residents, including a large contingent of former University of Iowa faculty and staff members.

Work on the project by McComas-Lacina Construction is more than 50 percent complete, and on schedule for a June 2015 occupancy date. All except two of the 73 units are under contract.

Project Architect Mark Seabold of Shive-Hattery says the design responded to focus groups of people on the community’s long waiting list who wanted their retirement homes to feel connected to the outdoors. The project achieved that aim through extensive use of large windows and through public areas that will flow from inside to outside.

One way that was achieved was by building the entire structure in a ‘U’ shape around a large central courtyard that brings in extra light. The courtyard will feature a fountain that will serve as a natural buffer of sound from adjacent Benton Street, and a water feature.

Ms. Heiden said the underground parking for 162 vehicles was a “huge, huge” plus for the target market. She said retirees cherish their mobility, and many couples have not one, but two, cars.

The new facility will also include indoor bicycle parking.

Existing Oaknoll residents are looking forward to the building’s arrival because it will bring with it a second restaurant concept, a pub, an art gallery and artists’ work space and a new community room large enough to seat the entire community population. The restaurant will feature a high-energy contemporary accent, and will be more casual in menu and style than the current steakhouse-style restaurant.

The pub lounge will include an outdoor patio seating area, part of which will be under roof.

A major design issue was the size of the site. Shive-Hattery tried to condense the footprint of the building. In part, that was to avoid impact on the established single-family residential neighborhood surrounding Oaknoll. In part, it was to keep the building conveniently close for residents of the older sections of the community.

Mr. Seabold said the green features did not come at a price for Oaknoll. In fact, he said, the building will cost no more per square foot than the last Oaknoll addition on George Street seven years ago.

Oaknoll Administrator Steve Roe said that even with the opening more than one year away, the new addition is a “daily topic of conversation” among residents who are interested in the design and new amenities.

Although such large changes can prompt concerns about changing the personality of the community, Ms. Heiden said residents are overwhelmingly supportive of the large expansion.