Over the past 40-some years, something new has taken root on the former Luke Grubb farm southeast of Palmyra.

Londonderry Village – founded in the late 1970s as the Lebanon Valley Brethren Home – is no longer owned by the Church of the Brethren, but chooses to be affiliated with it because of an ongoing connection to its founders’ beliefs.

“There’s a vibe on this campus of volunteerism and giving back to the community and philanthropy,” said Londonderry Village president Jeff Shireman in an interview with LebTown.

Shireman said that since the home’s opening in 1979, it has never asked someone to leave due to running out of money for healthcare, instead finding ways to subsidize their care.

“There’s definitely a difference in vibe here compared to other retirement communities

Originally built with 100 nursing units and 40 residential units, today the campus is home to about 565 people, the majority of whom are in independent living, taken care by a staff of about 200 employees.

Londonderry Village is now embarking on a multi-year, multi-million dollar project to scale its community vibe to serve a larger population. For the last 15 years, the organization has been sowing the seeds to expand its operation southward onto land that was previously rented to farmers. On that land, Londonderry Village will build Fox Run, a multi-phase development that will greatly expand the senior living community’s capacity to provide continuing care in a way that fits with the evolving tastes of emergent elder populations.

“We’re ready to expand,” said Shireman.

Fox Run will eventually add about 110 residences to Londonderry Village’s south campus.

The Fox Run project was initially sketched out around 2007-08, but ran into constraints with North Londonderry Township’s sewer capacity at the time. Shireman said that this probably ended up being a good thing due to the recession that shortly followed, reducing prospective residents’ ability to sell their homes and move.

Londonderry Village pivoted and instead built an apartment building that saw extremely high demand, selling out before it even opened. Shireman said about three or four years ago, Londonderry Village pulled the idea of developing the south campus off the shelf and again began planning.

While the planning and approval process took longer than expected, one positive side effect was that the county reviewed stormwater and utility plans for all three planned phases of the project, so phases two and three should entail a simpler approval process.

Overall view of the planned multi-phase Fox Run project to be constructed on Londonderry Village’s south campus. Phase one can be seen towards the center, the left-most portion of the additions highlighted in green. (Provided photo)

Although Shireman says there’s already interest in phase two, right now the focus is entirely on phase one, a $20-25 million expansion that will see 35 units added – seven single family dwellings, two townhomes with two units each, and two hybrid apartment buildings with 12 units each.

The phase one portion of Fox Run can be seen to the lower left. (Provided photo)

The phase one “pocket neighborhood” is oriented around a shared green space, with driveway access from alleys behind the buildings. “What the green space does is encourage more socialization,” said Shireman, noting that particularly during the pandemic the importance of outdoor space became very clear.

The hybrid apartment units combine advantages of traditional ranch homes and congregate living. The apartments each include a minimum of two different compass exposures, maximizing natural light, and a pull-in garage.

There are other design changes between the new Fox Run development and Londonderry Village’s existing designs. Shireman said that focus groups were conducted with people on the community’s waitlist as the “baby boomer” generation has different wants and desires than previously admitted residents.

Shireman said that the focus group revealed today’s incoming residents want as much space as possible, as well as finishes like granite countertops, vinyl plank floors, stainless steel appliances, and larger garages. Londonderry Village has incorporated these insights into the plans for Fox Run, which were designed by SFCS Architects.

One of the things that differentiates the independent living options at Londonderry Village from other retirement living communities is that as a continuing care facility, Londonderry Village can adapt its offerings to residents as their needs change. “If and when your circumstances change, there’s options,” said Shireman.

The minimum age at Londonderry Village is 62, but residents in their 80s or 90s have also moved into independent living. There’s a safety net in place in the event that a stroke or dementia reduces residents’ capacity to care for themselves, keeping them in the place they now call home.

One example of these options is moving into one of Londonderry Village’s Green House facilities, an alternative to a traditional nursing home design where the institutional nature is much reduced.

Although Londonderry Village’s Green Houses are licensed and regulated as nursing homes, they are only home to 10 residents and don’t feature a traditional nursing station. Instead, residents maintain their own private room and full private bath inside a 7,000- to 8,000-square-foot ranch home, featuring an open concept living/dining room and an on-site kitchen.

Londonderry Village is the only Green House community in Pennsylvania, and operates six of only 400 or so Green Houses that exist nationally.

Shireman said that during the pandemic, this concept fared particularly well due to the fewer number of staff circulating through the facility, with nurses typically working in the same home day after day.

Shireman also said that Londonderry Village is working to offer more in-home care.

Perhaps the biggest constraint to these options at present is finding staff. Londonderry Village had to temporarily close two of its Green Houses earlier this year due to staffing issues. One of the facilities is expected to reopen later this summer, and the other will be offline until the fall as the opportunity is being used to give the facility a makeover.

Although healthcare in general is very labor-intensive, the experience of Londonderry Village provides a unique opportunity to get to know people in way that’s not feasible in acute or outpatient care. That might be part of why Londonderry Village has seen hiring success so far this year in a period when many healthcare workers are burnt out. Shireman said that so far this year, Londonderry Village has hired 34 individuals, compared to 40 hirings in the typical calendar year.

“With longterm care, we get to know our folks over weeks or months or even decades,” said Shireman. “We had one couple in their independent living apartment over 30 years.”

Although one downside is that the grief is a little more profound than you might find in other types of healthcare, it’s a rich experience getting to know residents, said Shireman.

“Some of them have been everywhere and done everything.”

Shireman said that Londonderry Village already has some pre-sales for the first phase, and with financing in place, construction will begin as soon as the site can be excavated and the roads graded. Arthur Funk & Sons will be the general contractor of the project, as they have for many Londonderry Village projects in the past.

“They’re very good at making projects happen on time and on budget,” said Shireman.

Shireman expects the public will see “dirt flying and concrete pouring” in a couple months.

Unlike many projects going under construction right now, Shireman said this one should be relatively insulated from supply chain pressures, as Londonderry Village pre-bought the lumber, windows, and other materials for phase one about a year ago and stored them on the campus.

Shireman and the Londonderry Village board will be gauging consumer reaction to phase one as they refine plans for phases two and three.

“We’re offering a variety of options,” said Shireman. “If one of those things sells or doesn’t sell, that will probably change our designs on phase two.”

At present, phase two is planned to have more single family and townhomes than phase one.

Shireman said that in Lebanon County, it can be difficult to get people to sign on in advance for the project, although there has already been interest in reversing for phase two. However, once the construction starts, Shireman said Londonderry Village almost inevitably sells out before it finishes.

“We get a lot of calls, but until we start pushing the dirt, people are reluctant to sign on,” said Shireman.”

For more information about Fox Run, visit FoxRunAtLV.org.

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Davis Shaver is the publisher of LebTown. He grew up in Lebanon and currently lives outside of Hershey, PA.