ST. JOSEPH — An Abbeyfield Society senior living center in St. Joseph could be ready for occupancy next summer, now that a building permit has been issued.
The 12-unit center will be located at 501 Peters Drive, across the street from St. Joseph Middle School on the village's southeast side.
It will be operated by the Abbeyfield Society of St. Joseph, a not-for-profit organization interested in creating a community for local seniors.
The Abbeyfield concept of senior living originated in the United Kingdom in the 1950s and has since spread to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and other countries.
Mary Butzow of Urbana, who has been championing the idea of a local center for a decade, said about 25 area residents have been laying groundwork for the center in St. Joseph.
"A lot of people in their 60s were worried about parents in their 80s and worried about their own lives in 20 years," said Butzow, a registered nurse whose mother lives in the St. Joseph area.
The Abbeyfield House of St. Joseph is designed to provide seniors with companionship and "good home-cooked meals," she added.
It will be a residential facility, not a health care facility, though residents can make arrangements for home health care, Butzow said.
Each of the 12 suites will be 500 square feet and include a bedroom, large bathroom, walk-in closet, small sitting room and kitchenette.
The residential area will connect with a "great house" that includes an all-purpose room where residents can gather to watch TV, find books or play cards, and a dining room where they can eat lunch and supper together.
The center will have two resident managers, each on duty for four days and then off duty for four days.
Butzow described the Abbeyfield project as "independent living with safety nets in place."
She first became acquainted with the concept while in graduate school in 1994 and learned more about it while visiting England in 1998.
A group was formed in St. Joseph in 2002 to pursue establishment of a local center, but the 2008 financial crisis nearly derailed the project.
The group held a "ground-breaking" for the facility in 2010, only to learn two weeks later that a loan for the project hadn't gone through.
Butzow said the group had been working with a U.S. bank, but in the wake of the financial crisis, lending to non-profit groups dried up.
The local group then turned to the Abbeyfield organization in the United Kingdom, which arranged financing through London-based Barclays Bank.
The building permit issued by the village lists the project cost at $1.35 million. The 25,000-square-foot building was designed by the Gorski Reifsteck architectural firm in Champaign, and Bates Construction of St. Joseph will be general contractor. Butzow said she hopes the center will be ready for occupancy next summer.
When finished, the Abbeyfield House of St. Joseph is expected to be the only Abbeyfield project in the U.S. There was once one in Brookfield, Butzow said, but it merged with an assisted-living project.
Butzow said she hopes other area communities will take interest in the Abbeyfield concept and pursue facilities of their own.
People interested in becoming residents of the St. Joseph facility can contact the local society at 469-2611 or visit the website abbeyfieldstjoe.wordpress.com.
Several prospective residents and their families are already meeting as a social group on a monthly basis, Butzow said.
David Coe, the international director of Abbeyfield, is expected to visit St. Joseph later this month. Susan Frobish of Urbana is president of the local society.