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Transforming a Tuberculosis Sanatorium into Affordable Senior Living in Edison, New Jersey

A photograph of a six-story brick building.The Residences at Roosevelt Park preserved a historic New Deal building and maintained its tradition of serving a public good. Source: Don Pearse Photographers

During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration built a four-story tuberculosis sanatorium on a small hill in Edison, New Jersey, about 25 miles southwest of Manhattan. Throughout its history, the Middlesex County Tuberculosis Sanatorium, which became Roosevelt Hospital after the advent of antibiotics to treat tuberculosis, was expanded and used as a nursing home until the 2010s. In 2013, Middlesex County partnered with Pennrose Development, WRT Design, and the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (NJHMFA) to convert the original hospital building into an 84-unit affordable senior apartment building on 11 acres of land directly adjacent to a public park. The Residences at Roosevelt Park, as the project was named, removed the modern additions to the hospital, preserved the original building, and added several design innovations to serve its senior residents.

Project Description

The Residences at Roosevelt Park is a six-story, I-shaped building constructed of red brick and limestone in the Colonial Revival style; it houses 74 one-bedroom apartments and 11 two-bedroom apartments. Residents must be 62 years old or older and earn 30, 40, or 60 percent of the area median income. Twenty-one of the apartments are reserved for veterans, and 5 and 6 apartments are reserved for individuals who were formerly homeless and individuals with disabilities, respectively. Pennrose secured eight project-based vouchers to support residents who were formerly homeless and those in the lowest-income units.

Charles Richman, executive director of NJHMFA, recounted that the set-asides are part of larger statewide programs to reserve units for vulnerable populations in newly created affordable housing. When conducting merit-based evaluations of applications for low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs), NJHMFA awards points to developers whose proposals include these set-asides. As a result, most developments in the state include similar set-asides. Middlesex County partnered with the state and the developer to reach the project’s targeted populations, worked with local service providers to market the units, and advocated reserving units for veterans.

Financing

The total cost of renovating Roosevelt Hospital was $27 million; the sale of 9 percent LIHTCs financed $15.2 million of this cost. An additional $5 million came from federal historic tax credits. The remaining $7 million came from a various state bonds as well as Pennrose, which deferred its developer fee for the project. Richman explained that although the $27 million total cost made the Residences at Roosevelt Park more expensive than many NJHMFA-funded affordable housing developments, the ability to restore a local landmark while maintaining a public health use on the property made the project attractive to finance.

Jacob Fisher, a regional vice president at Pennrose, explained that the large contingency budget needed for a historic renovation, which is often twice what is carried for new construction, was a major reason for the increased cost. He recounted that the project’s construction budget alone was $18.5 million because historic renovations often experience unanticipated challenges that need to be resolved. One such challenge emerged during the restoration of the terra-cotta wainscoting in the hallways, which started to crumble when work began, requiring the services of a team of masons experienced in historic building practices.

Historic Restoration

Jaquelin Camp, a senior associate architect at WRT Design who worked on the project, recalled that at the start of the project, the original 1930s hospital building was in good shape, but the modern additions, which were built to a lower standard, were deteriorating. Middlesex County, in conjunction with the developer, decided to remove the portions of the building added in the 1980s entirely and restore the building’s original envelope. The county financed the demolition of the modern additions, allowing it to secure historic tax credits and create the necessary space for ground-level amenities such as parking and green space.

A photograph of several tables and chairs arranged near a small kitchen.Vibrant interior features and bright natural light combine to create beautiful spaces for residents of The Residences at Roosevelt Park. Source: Don Pearse Photographers.

Camp and her colleagues integrated design elements from the original building into the new apartments in several ways. First, they created a large rooftop gathering space for residents. The old hospital featured large decks where patients could sit outside in the fresh air that was thought to help them recover. Although many of the original decks were infilled or removed with the construction of the modern additions, the indoor/outdoor roof deck and adjacent fourth-floor community room restored the outdoor recreation space present in the original design.

A second major feature of the historic building was a grand staircase that was the hospital’s main entrance. The staircase rose from the ground floor to an entry hall on the second floor. According to Camp, accessibility concerns made the staircase impractical as a primary entrance to the apartments, so the builders converted the large entryway into a parlor with comfortable chairs and natural lighting where residents can socialize and people watch. The architects moved the main entrance to the back of the building, where the parking lot leads to an accessible ground-floor entryway. In addition to the parlor on the ground floor, the designers included smaller communal parlors near the elevator lobbies on each floor to encourage residents to socialize and reduce isolation. Fisher noted that different flooring materials were used for each floor’s parlors and hallways to help residents, many of whom have had little or no experience living in an apartment building, with wayfinding by giving each floor a distinct identity.

Both the large main parlor and the smaller parlors on each floor are located at the center of the building and have large windows that brought natural light and fresh air to patients recovering from tuberculosis during the building’s early years. Although only one of the building’s original windows remains, David Gamba, associate architect at WRT Design, explained that the firm was able to use that window as a template to custom design modern, weatherproofed windows in the same size and shape.

The original hospital was designed around a wide central passageway surrounded by large, ward-like rooms. Preserving the central passageway forced the designers to construct creative floorplans that split the wards into smaller apartments that often were narrower than typical apartments. Each unit includes a fully equipped kitchen, and amenities such as grab bars in the showers and laundry facilities on each floor serve the needs of the building’s senior residents.

Community Amenities

The Residences at Roosevelt Park is located on a hill that overlooks Roosevelt Park, a 200-acre county park with a number of recreational offerings. In addition, the development abuts the Menlo Park Mall, a regional shopping hub. Richman explained that the building’s proximity to amenities and shopping made it especially important to redevelop the hospital into an asset that the community could use. The walkable location is well suited to seniors, who may not have access to personal automobiles.

Building on the Historic Medical Tradition

The deed to the land upon which the building sits has a covenant specifying that the property must be used for medical purposes. Camp observed that an adjacent lot houses one of the modern nursing homes that the county built to replace Roosevelt Hospital. At the beginning of the project, the county and the developer had to decide whether the project met the definition of a medical use. They eventually reasoned that because stable, affordable housing leads to a significant improvement in health outcomes for seniors, senior apartments do, in fact, qualify as a health purpose. The county hopes to expand the health-related offerings on the same lot as the Residences at Roosevelt Park, and preliminary discussions are underway to add a medical office building or another medical use to supplement the existing housing and nursing home facilities.

Source:

New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency. 2016. “Groundbreaking for Residence at Roosevelt Park to Provide Affordable Housing for Seniors in Middlesex County,” press release, 19 October. Accessed 20 December 2019; Preservation New Jersey. n.d. “Roosevelt Hospital.” Accessed 25 November 2019; Elana Knopp. 2018. “Edison’s former Roosevelt Hospital undergoes 25 million historic renovation,” NJBIZ, 13 April. Accessed 25 November 2019; Interview with Charles Richman, executive director, New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, 5 December 2019.

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Source:

New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency. 2016. “Groundbreaking for Residence at Roosevelt Park to Provide Affordable Housing for Seniors in Middlesex County,” press release, 19 October. Accessed 20 December 2019; Preservation New Jersey. n.d. “Roosevelt Hospital.” Accessed 25 November 2019; Interview with Charles Richman, executive director, New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, 5 December 2019; Interview with Jacob Fisher, regional vice president, Pennrose, 18 December 2019.

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Interview with Charles Richman, executive director New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, 5 December 2019; Interview with Jacob Fisher, regional vice president, Pennrose, 18 December 2019.

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Interview with Charles Richman, executive director New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, 5 December 2019; Interview with Jacob Fisher, regional vice president, Pennrose, 18 December 2019.

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Interview with Jacob Fisher, regional vice president Pennrose, 18 December 2019.

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Interview with Jaquelin Camp, architect, WRT Design, 5 December 2019; Interview with Jacob Fisher, regional vice president Pennrose, 18 December 2019.

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Interview with Jaquelin Camp, architect, WRT Design, 5 December 2019.

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Interview with Jaquelin Camp, architect, WRT Design, 5 December 2019; Interview with Jacob Fisher, regional vice president Pennrose, 18 December 2019.

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Interview with Jaquelin Camp, architect, WRT Design, 5 December 2019; Interview with David Gamba, architect, WRT Design, 5 December 2019.

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Interview with Jaquelin Camp, architect, WRT Design, 5 December 2019; Pennrose. “Residence at Roosevelt Park.” Accessed 25 November 2019.

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Source:

Pennrose. “Residence at Roosevelt Park.” Accessed 25 November 2019; Interview with Charles Richman, executive director New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, 5 December 2019; Interview with Jaquelin Camp, architect, WRT Design, 5 December 2019; Interview with Jacob Fisher, regional vice president Pennrose, 18 December 2019.

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Interview with Jaquelin Camp, architect, WRT Design, 5 December 2019; Interview with Jacob Fisher, regional vice president Pennrose, 18 December 2019.

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