Ground broken for retirement facility

"With the turn of about a dozen spades in an empty Freeland field Thursday morning, three South Whidbey developers and one county commissioner broke ground on the area's first new retirement and elderly-care facility in more than 15 years.Bereft of an elderly care facility for the past 10 years, South Whidbey residents have gotten used to sending parents and grandparents in need of assisted living facilities or long-term medical care to Careage of Coupeville, or to Oak Harbor, Anacortes or the mainland. This week, Erl Bangston, Jim Mock and Jim Mock Jr. began making it possible for some of those people to return to their home town and live out their last years near family. Bangston and the Mocks took the first step toward completing 41 senior condominiums and a 78-room assisted living facility in Freeland. Island County Commissioner Mike Shelton, who was at the Main Street groundbreaking site, said the project is a dream come true for many South Whidbey residents.This is a great day, a great day for Island County, Shelton said.With a grading permit in hand and building permits in process with Island County, Bangston and the Mocks will give the go ahead on Monday for the development's site work to begin.Bangston, who is developing the condominiums, said he expects the first of his units to start going up within two months. Construction on the Mocks' facility, which will be built more like a multi-level apartment, will begin not long afterwards. Both portions of the facility should be finished by January 2001.All three men have been fielding scores of inquiries about their development since they announced it last summer. Bangston said there are many local people anxious to bring their loved ones back to South Whidbey.Twenty-three seniors left South Whidbey last year, Bangston said. Many would like to come back.Projected to cost about $15 million, the project will be perhaps the most expensive ever on South Whidbey. The developers say the cash outlay will be worth it, however. Already, they have noted enough demand to fill the facility within a year of its opening. That should give them quick return on their investment. But Jim Mock Sr. said the project goes beyond money. He said it is a place where he, his son Jim Mock Jr., Erl, and anyone else on South Whidbey would be pleased to call home when it comes time to move into senior-oriented housing.I think it will be a project the community will be proud of, he said.Bangston's condominiums are designed for seniors who are still independent, but who want to be free of the burden of taking care of a home. He has not yet specified how much the condos will cost, but said buyers will probably be of a middle-income group or higher.Bangston said he knows who will be ready to leap in to buy the units as they are finished.They all want to take the sledgehammer to the lawnmower, he said.The Mocks' facility will offer a higher standard of attention to seniors' needs. A trained staff will be able to assist residents with medications, disabilities and special dietary needs. It will have its own dining facilities and social activities and, along with Bangston's units, will have access to a privately operated, 12,000-square-foot medical facility on what the developers call their campus.The living units will also share a chaplain, streets and sidewalks designed for strolling, and transportation services that will work with Island Transit to take residents wherever they wish to go.One high-tech feature that could someday benefit the entire Freeland community is an on-site sewer system that treats and recycles water for irrigation use, toilets and other places where non-potable water is useful. The partners say the system will allow each living unit at the facility to use far less water than the average household. That system could have additional capacity for use by other Freeland residents and businesses.The Mocks, who operate HMH Management in Langley, already have experience in the senior housing market. They have developed several assisted living and senior housing facilities, including one in Anacortes. The Freeland project is Bangston's first venture into senior housing. He is a real estate agent and is the owner of Coldwell Banker/Tara Properties. The three men say they might add another phase of building to the current project in the future if there is a large-enough demand. "

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