John O'Connor illustration
McKnight’s Editorial Director John O’Connor
John O'Connor
John O’Connor

So you want to build a senior living campus, eh?

Well, let’s see. There’s finding a suitable chunk of real estate. Then obtaining the land. Plus convincing the locals to let you build on it. And then the actual construction. All told, it’s a pretty heavy fiscal and physical lift — all before a single resident has moved in.

What if I told you there was a much easier, less costly, more welcome way to proceed? There is. Simply recycle.

No, I don’t mean recycle in the traditional sense of separating plastics, glass, paper and cans from the rest of the trash (although environmentalists insist that’s a good idea). No, I mean recycle in the sense of repurposing existing non- or under-used buildings for senior living.

In my home town of Chicago, more than 100 public schools currently are way under-used. Some have only a handful of students. Talk about ideal inventory for senior living conversion in the Windy City — and elsewhere.

And why just consider public schools? Large retail stores, unused warehouses, troubled shopping malls and many more locales could also be similarly reinvented.

That’s not to say conversions are free, or easy. But they sure could be a lot less costly than starting from scratch.

This also happens to be a practical way to serve the elusive middle market. A savvy operator could save a fortune on startup costs alone. That translates to lower operating costs. Which also means profits kick in at a lower price point.

Plus there’s another notable benefit: the Not-In-My-Back-Yard crowd is not going to be making your life miserable. Au contraire. This time, you get to wear the white hat, buckaroo. It’s a pretty safe bet the locals are going to be thrilled to see you revitalizing their communities and serving and unmet need.

As far as the limits for such recycling? There’s really is only one: your imagination.

Not that this is an original idea. There are many examples of this approach to be found. But frankly, not anywhere near enough.

There’s clearly an opportunity here. Which begs an obvious question: will you take it, or will somebody else?

John O’Connor is editorial director for McKnight’s Senior Living and its sister media brands, McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, which focuses on skilled nursing, and McKnight’s Home Care. Read more of his columns here.