MOUNT VERNON — Michele Engelbach shrieked in celebration several times Friday afternoon.
The Ohio Eastern Star Home CEO let out a “woohoo!” and pumped her fists in the air when Knox County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Carol Grubaugh announced why she was there.
She let out another one when her facility received an honorary proclamation from Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, and when Mount Vernon Mayor Matt Starr offered his congratulations on its newest endeavor.
Representatives from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Park National Bank, Equity Construction Solutions and the Ohio Eastern Star Home’s Board of Trustees all received celebratory shouts and rounds of applause as well.
It was a cold day on the senior living community’s campus – windy, overcast and 40 degrees – and the 30 or so community stakeholders who gathered there huddled like penguins.
But Engelbach’s excitement distracted from the conditions. Her energy warmed the air.
She couldn’t help it. This had been a long time coming.
“Wow. It has been such a long journey to get here,” Engelbach said when it was her turn to speak, smiling as she exhaled. “We’re so excited.”
The Ohio Eastern Star Home broke ground Friday on the newest addition to its campus: Pine Hill Independent Senior Living.
The 96-unit community will be located on 60 acres just north of the non-profit’s main facility, at the intersection of Eastern Star Road and New Gambier Road on Mount Vernon’s east end.
It will include a building with 40 one- and two-bedroom apartments, located near the middle of the property, surrounded by 56 condominiums on the perimeter (these will be grouped into three- and four-unit cottages).
Some condominiums will have an attached garage and range in size from approximately 800 square feet to 1,200-square feet. All units will be rentals.
The planned neighborhood development will include patios and walking paths with the potential for a pond with ducks and fishing. The main apartment facility will offer restaurant-style dining in the evenings and bistro-style dining during the day.
The apartments are scheduled to open in the fall of 2024, Engelbach said. The condominiums will follow, opening in late 2025 or early 2026.
The Ohio Eastern Star Home has partnered with Park National Bank and the USDA’s Rural Development division to finance the $25 million project.
“We are so proud to partner with this community – with Knox County, with Mount Vernon,” Engelbach said Friday. “It’s just a joy to be here and be a part of this community.”
Engelbach said building a community like Pine Hill had been an idea since she arrived at the Ohio Eastern Star Home in 2012.
“We knew we had to build our neighborhoods before we built the independent living (facilities),” said Engelbach, referencing the nursing home buildings connected to the non-profit’s assisted living facility and rehabilitation center. The Ohio Eastern Star Home already owned the 60 acres Pine Hill will inhabit.
“It’s just been a part of our grand plan for quite some time,” she said.
The Ohio Eastern Star Home’s board began talking seriously about the project five years ago, Engelbach said, entering the design phase and mapping out the road ahead.
“We were ready to put a financing package together, and then COVID hit,” Engelbach said. “So that pretty much put the breaks on everything. My time was more directed towards caring for everybody here, and so we put (the project) on hold. And then we were starting to get back into it again, and then COVID surged again, so we had to go back.
“It was stop-and-start, stop-and-start.”
But Engelbach and the board continued to believe in the project, and as the pandemic began to fade, they went back to work.
The city approved the planned neighborhood development last July.
“We finally got everything put together in the fall of last year,” Engelbach recalled, “and we were able to move forward.”
Pine Hill will serve as an “expansion of the independent living portion of our campus,” Engelbach said. She believes it will compliment the other facilities on the non-profit’s campus, which are geared toward residents with greater care needs.
“The neighborhoods have nursing home care 24 hours a day, and independent senior living is just that – there are no nursing services. You just live there, and you live your life,” Engelbach explained.
“But the advantage to that is you’re on our campus now, so as your needs start to change as you grow older, and maybe you need more assistance, you’re already on-campus and can move through our continuum of care as your care needs increase.
“If you get to the point where you need nursing home or assisted living care, you don’t have to start wondering where you’re going to go, or how you’re going to choose a place.”
Engelbach believes Pine Hill will fill a void in the community as well, given the current housing shortage.
“There is nothing in Knox County like us. We are the only not-for-profit continuing care retirement community in Knox County. And so I think (Pine Hill) has the potential to fill a huge void in this county,” Engelbach said.
“Senior living is booming. And for us to be able to provide something like this in the Mount Vernon and Knox County area, I think, is paramount. It’s just so exciting to bring this to the community.”
Starr agreed. He also believes the project will benefit the community culturally.
“Now we have more independent living – another option for seniors to age in-place here in Mount Vernon and Knox County, and a great option that we have for our housing stock. And so we’re very happy about that. …” Starr said.
“One of the things I think is incredibly important to talk about is their mission here, which is providing a means by which fraternal and community relationships can be encouraged and improved. What a great fit. This is a community within a community.”
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