Joan Meres already likes living at Covenant Place.
At 89 years old, she has been in charge of the senior residence’s bingo game for the past few months. She still drives. She attends Friday night Shabbat services at Covenant each week.
Meres has lived in the current Covenant Place II building for more than three years and thinks “it’s the greatest place to live.”
Still, when she saw the apartments inside the Covenant Place I Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Building, which opened in 2016, she was ecstatic about the prospect of eventually moving from an old apartment into a new one in the complex.
On June 26, Meres, a widowed mother of five, will move into the new Covenant Place II Cahn Family Building on the Millstone Campus near Creve Coeur.
This second part of a three-phase project is a $34 million, 111,697-square-foot facility. The building features 102 one-bedroom apartments, all of which are federally subsidized to make them affordable for residents. The new facility also includes significantly expanded space for dining, medical and social programs compared to Covenant Place’s old building.
The goal of Covenant Place is to better serve the growing senior population and people like Meres who are not only living into their late 80s and 90s but remain independent and active, said Joan Denison, president and CEO of Covenant Place, a nonprofit organization that is affiliated with the Jewish Federation of St. Louis.
The number of people age 65 and over in the United States is expected to increase to 98 million by 2060 from 49.2 million in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Covenant Place also conducted three studies in recent years that found that about 16,000 older adults lived within three miles of the facility and 45,000 within five miles, and that those numbers were projected to increase by 7% within five years.
“The goal is to create a place where older adults, whether they live in Covenant Place or the greater community, can come for recreation, socialization, and have services and resources available to them in a one-stop shop that supports their goals of continuing to live well and independently,” said Denison, whose organization used private donations, mortgages, and state and local tax credits and grants to fund the project.
Covenant started planning for the revamp in 2012 after determining that the buildings, the oldest of which dates to 1974, were becoming functionally obsolete because they were constructed before there were Americans With Disabilities Act guidelines to ensure that buildings are accessible, Denison said.
That was before “anyone would imagine the number of people who are living into their 90s and 100s would be possible. Now we see that as a matter of fact,” said Denison, who has been with the organization for eight years.
Covenant also realized that given the senior population growth, “we would never have enough housing,” she said. “We always have a really long wait list here. So what could we do to provide the kind of resources and services to the greater community that were clearly helping our residents to age well and stay independent?
“The socialization, the food, the exercise, the resources, the learning to keep your brain stimulated, all of those things that people get in a community that they don’t get at home when they’re by themselves.”
Denison and the Covenant board decided to dedicate the first floor of the Cahn building, named for donors Paul and Elissa Cahn, to serve as a public space and be called the Mirowitz Center, after donor Helene Mirowitz. That will include a new restaurant, HJ’s Cafe, named after donors Harry and Jeanette Weinberg, which is open to the public and has kosher and non-kosher kitchens. The cafe can seat about 80 people plus about 40 on the patio.
Company Kitchen, a Kansas City-based food service provider, created the menu, which will be divided into three categories — red, yellow and green — based on how healthy and nutritious the items are.
“If you want your burger patty or your turkey patty or your veggie patty on a bun or a bowl of greens, there will be a lot of options for different dietary interests,” Denison said, adding that the Covenant Place is not taking a profit from the cafe, so “the prices are more affordable than you would find at a typical restaurant.”
The organization also will increase its programming, including offering ballet, genealogy, tai chi and technology classes that will cost about $5 each.
But a number of organizations in the St. Louis Jewish community, such as the Naturally Occurring Retirement Community, sponsored by Jewish Federation, already offer programming for seniors. What will make the new Covenant community center different?
Denison said a number of different organizations will be needed because of the senior population growth.
“I think one of the things that makes Covenant Place unique is that all these services and resources are under one roof,” she said. “There are very few places in the country that have this many resources.”
Resources include a medical wing. RPI Therapy Services will relocate from the Chai Apartments on the same campus into a 3,200-square-foot space for physical, occupational and speech therapy. And Washington University Physicians will open a primary and geriatric care practice there.
“That’s important because there are very few geriatric practices in St. Louis, and they haven’t been open to accept new patients in a long time,” Denison said.
Covenant will hold a ribbon cutting for the building later this month and a grand opening for the Mirowitz Center in September. It then will raise money for Phase 3, which will involve the demolition of the former Covenant Place II building and construction of 150 apartments. It does not yet have an expected date of completion for that phase, Denison said.
In the meantime, Covenant is focused on making the move into the Cahn building easy for residents such as Meres and is seeking volunteers to help residents.
“Most of us are excited about the move,” Meres said. “I’m sure there are a few that are grumbling, but once they get in there, they will be happy.”
What’s she looking forward to most about the building?
“The fact that it’s going to be new and modern,” she said. “This place, as far as I’m concerned, is unique. I know the staff is really concerned about our wellness and our comfort.”