Laurie Steber is excited to be in Rome and even more excited for the summer of 2020 opening of The Spires at Berry College.

The Spires is a new continuing care retirement community well under construction off Redmond Circle on the fringe of the sprawling Berry campus. Steber is its new executive director.

She comes to Rome from Preston Pointe, a privately held retirement community in Morrisville, North Carolina, not far from Durham and Raleigh. She started out in the retirement community industry in northern California but has been back in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area of North Carolina for the past decade. Her husband was ready to retire from Duke University School of Law and they were ready to settle down somewhere.

That’s when she found out about the job in Rome.

“Berry was attractive because I knew the campus was gorgeous and I love how they all work. I think work is so important,” Steber said.

The facility is a mix of independent living cottages and apartments all the way up through assisted living and skilled care residential units. The concept is designed to permit residents to essentially age in place without having to leave the primary campus as adverse health conditions develop.

Steber said she knew a little bit about Berry because she has a lot of family in the Atlanta area and a nephew who attended the college.

Steber’s first big responsibility will be to put together a staff. She’s not sure how many full-time employees The Spires will ultimately have, pointing out that a lot of that will involve the health needs of residents.

The only one we’re recruiting for right now is the nursing home administrator,” Steber said. “That really is the key to the whole (health care) building over there.”

Once the nursing home administrator is on the job, that person and Steber will work together to hire the director of nursing, the registered nursing staff and licensed practical nursing staff.

“We’ve got a lot on the medical side that we have to hire,” Steber said.

Other management-level positions will be recruited for during the first quarter of 2020. Those positions will include the dining services manager, who will oversee operations at the different dining venues, and the director of engineering, who will oversee maintenance of the buildings.

A human resources manager and business office manager will fall next in line and then the resident services director — who will help handle a lot of daily details like transportation services for the residents — and then the activities managers. The latter two positions are not needed until there are residents and that is scheduled to occur around the first of June.

The Spires website has a career tab, which has a jobs tab that hasn’t been working because they haven’t been ready to hire. But that tab should become functional very soon and people interested in working at the retirement community will be able to go to that site to apply.

“We’ll just systematically start adding to our team,” Steber said.

There also will be a lot of student-employees to enhance the services to the residents.

“They will not affect how many full-time people we hire,” Steber said. “They’re still student-employees. We’re going to hire everybody we need to hire. They’ll just be helping and assisting in various areas.”

The biggest benefit from having the student workers may be the relationships that will be established between the college kids and the older residents.

“When you see younger people interacting with older people, the energy level — it creates a synergy,” Steber said. “We’ve had ‘Teens and Tech’ and had teenage volunteers come over and help residents with their iPhones or their iPads or whatever. Just watching them interact, I thought it’s going to be so good for our residents and the Berry students, too. It’s like you grabbed this whole group of grandparents.”

The Development Authority of Floyd County approved a pair of bond packages in October of 2018 totaling up to $135 million for the retirement community. Lavender Mountain Senior Living is the legal entity that will actually operate the continuing care community.

Approximately 80% of the units at The Spires have been sold at this point. A company called Moving Station has been retained to help manage the scheduling of move-ins.

“They help from beginning to end. They will make sure we don’t have six move in on the fourth floor on the same day,” Steber said.

The west wing of the main apartment building and the 26 cottages are expected to be the first units to open in the summer of next year. Steber said the rest of the complex should be open before the end of 2020.

She said she is looking forward to the opening and getting to know the residents on a personal basis. Early in her career she knew that she didn’t want be like some of the executive directors she had worked for because they had largely ignored the residents.

“That didn’t make sense to me because ... I would not ignore a customer,” she said.

When one asked her if she would become an executive director, she said she thought that she couldn’t do a worse job so she gave it a shot. And she’s worked in similar positions for well over a decade now.

The administrative offices in The Spires are expected to be ready to move into by early April.

That’s when Steber and her staff will move from the Cotton Block downtown out to the campus.

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