Tel Hai: Developing a Community—and a Partnership—by Design
If you’re lucky along your business journey, you’ll develop relationships that have true staying power—decades-long partnerships with trusted organizations and individuals who share your values.
For RGS Associates, the team at Tel Hai Retirement Community is one such partner. In this case, however, our partnership was formed less by luck and more by design.
The RGS/Tel Hai story began 20 years ago when the then-small retirement community in Honey Brook, PA had big plans to transform its campus into a destination for active seniors ready to enjoy life in retirement.
Together, through hard work and creative land planning ingenuity (and a little luck along the way), Tel Hai has nearly doubled the size of its campus, blossoming into the beautiful, vibrant senior living community it is today.
“RGS has been our partner in bringing our land development plan to life from day one, helping us navigate the design and planning of what is a challenging site to develop,” said Tel Hai CEO J. David Shenk.
Nothing Good Comes Easy: The Realities and Rewards of Designing Through Dramatic Topography
While the partnership between RGS and Tel Hai was a natural fit, the site itself presented multiple challenges that required serious land-development problem-solving skills and the collaboration of great minds.
“There’s nothing simple or straightforward about the Tel Hai property,” said Alex Piehl, Principal at RGS and Lead Project Manager for the Tel Hai community development master plan.
Perhaps the biggest structural challenge RGS faced in working through Tel Hai’s 25-year master plan was its Stonecraft Building. This community building features everything from apartments to an indoor swimming pool to a multi-purpose room with seating for more than 400 people.
From the lower southeast side of the campus to the upper northwest corner of the property, the topography drops a steep 100 feet. The Stonecraft Building sits in the middle of this sharp slope.
“When we went to design the building, we had to work with the land and with the steep incline which presented unique challenges requiring unique solutions,” Alex said. “Especially on a retirement community campus where walking or driving up inclines could present challenges for older residents.”
This meant RGS had to fit the building and its surrounding parking area into the site to maximize the space and get the most out of it … all without extending parking too far from the building entrances. One of the many innovative solutions Alex and his team worked with project architects to devise was the development of ground-floor parking under the wings of the building.
“Because of the steep slopes of the land, portions of the ground floor were underground which meant no windows,” Alex explained. “Since this limited the use of that space, we transformed the ground floor into a parking area giving each resident a covered parking space.”
The efficient use of this challenging site allowed for more parking and more apartments for seniors in the community and retained much of the uniqueness of the sloping, wooded site.
Balancing Land Development and Land Preservation Added to Tel Hai’s Expansion Challenges
Tel Hai’s master plan included the transformation of more than 70 acres that the community added to its existing campus in the early 2000s. Most of that new land consisted of thick woods with streams and other natural features. Protecting those natural resources and designing a campus that embraced them was the goal from day one.
“The local township required that our site design retain many of the trees and wooded hillsides, as well as the stream channel running through the property,” Alex said. “RGS worked as an extension of Tel Hai’s team at township zoning board meetings to help strike a balance between protecting the land and allowing for more cottages and more resources for Tel Hai residents in the future.”
Now 15 years into a 25-year master plan, this once-small retirement community has expanded impressively thanks to the partnership between the RGS and Tel Hai teams. Besides the major community space of the Stonecraft Building, Tel Hai has added all its planned cottages and half of its planned apartments, along with an ADA-compliant amphitheater and extensive community recreation elements. And there’s much more to come.
For Alex and the RGS Team, the Work Done at Tel Hai is Personal
Alex joined RGS in 2004 just as the Tel Hai Retirement Community master plan was being created.
“Tel Hai was one of the first projects I worked on at RGS,” Alex said. “I’ve seen and been a part of the evolution of the community throughout the entire planning process. And I’ve worked with the Tel Hai team as their partner for over 15 years. It’s been very rewarding to see our hard work come to life over the years.”
Dave from Tel Hai is equally pleased with the collaboration.
“Alex and his team have been partners in bringing the plan for our community to life,” he said. “They’ve always done what needs to be done to help us be successful in evolving Tel Hai and making it an incredible place for our residents and the Honey Brook community.”
To learn more about RGS and how we support organizations like Tel Hai, with services ranging from creative site design and entitlement services to design, permitting, construction, and post-construction services, contact the RGS team. We look forward to connecting with you.