It wasn’t quite the kind of celebration that had been expected when, two and a half years ago, work began on a major renovation at the Culpepper Garden senior-living facility.
But it was a celebration nonetheless – albeit “virtually” – that was called for, and on Oct. 13, leaders of two non-profit housing providers and their partners held an online program to mark completion of the $58 million project.
“We’ve been looking forward to this day for a very long time,” said Susan Philp, board chair of Arlington Retirement Housing Corp. (ARHC), which operates the property, located on a 4.7-acre tract just west of Ballston.
“It has truly taken a team effort to move this renovation project from a vision to reality,” Philp said in remarks during a 26-minute broadcast over the organization’s Facebook page.
The project focused on the original, mid-1970s portion of the complex, renovating both apartments and common spaces to address accessibility and modern building codes. Several office areas were converted into new apartments, bringing the total to 210.
Arlington Retirement Housing Corp. partnered with Wesley Housing on the project. Federal, state and local resources, including loans and tax credits, are being used to support the project.
“At every turn, the partners on this project kept their focus on the prize: providing beautiful, essentially new, housing,” said Shelli Murphy, president of Wesley Housing. “We understand how critical the mission is.”
Originally designed exclusively for independent living, subsequent phases of Culpepper Garden incorporated assisted-living components. The average income of residents is $18,000 per year, largely through Social Security; their average age is 77.
In addition to the COVID crisis, which hit as the renovation project was in its home stretch and shut down work for several months, the project also lived through the retirement of Culpepper Garden executive director Linda Kelleher, who was succeeded this summer by Marta Hill Gray.
It was in 1969 that the Arlington Retirement Housing Corp. was founded by a group of local residents, aiming to purchase land and develop it to meet the needs of low-income seniors – a somewhat revolutionary concept at the time.
Even though the group reached a deal with Dr. Charles Culpepper to purchase acreage he had owned since the 1920s, county-government approvals were slow in coming, stalled by a battle-royale between proponents of the project on one side, some of its neighbors and others who wanted the tract left in its bucolic state on the other.
It was, longtime civic activist Jean Barton recalled at a fund-raiser several years ago, “a real doozy,” but eventually, county-government approval was secured.
(While 1969 marks the creation of the organization that developed Culpepper Garden, it was five years earlier, in 1964, that a group of Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington parishioners first conceived the idea.)
Since the opening of its initial building in 1975, more than 2,400 seniors have called the Culpepper Garden home. A number have made it into their second century.
For those living there now, and those to come, the renovations will make for a more enjoyable experience. “We could not be more proud of the transformation,” Philp said.
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