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Koelsch Senior Communities of Olympia, Wash., which has five decades of experience in senior care, is building an $8.4 million senior living facility on the Billings West End designed specifically for Alzheimer's sufferers.

The private-pay, 40-apartment facility now under construction at 1785 Majestic Lane off Zoo Drive could care for 67 people when it opens next fall.

“We are the second or possibly the third free-standing mental care community in town,” said Chief Executive and President Aaron Koelsch. “St. John's (Lutheran Home) does have a free-standing mental care center and they do a fine job, but there still is a demand that needs to be met.”

Edgewood Vista at 1225 Wicks Lane was the first facility to care specifically forAlzheimer patients in Billings.

The other dementia care providers in Billings are attached to communities offering other kinds of senior care, Koelsch said, adding that his facility will have the advantage of specializing in Alzheimer's.

The new 32,000-square-foot facility is called Canyon Creek Memory Care Community and is being built on four acres northeast of the Wingate By Wydham Hotel in Broso Valley Park.

In urban areas, Koelsch (pronounced Kelsh) Communities anticipates getting 80 percent of its clients from within a 5-mile radius. But, that circle was broadened to 20 miles in Billings and Bozeman.

The Billings facility will be identical to another Koelsch development, Spring Creek Inn Memory Care Community, which opened in Bozeman in June.

Koelsch Senior Communities currently operates six facilities in Washington, two in California and one in Idaho, plus the Montana projects.

The Billings facility took 18 months to get started due to uncertain financial markets, Koelsch said. Three potential loans, including one with an unnamed local bank, fell through. So, the project is being financed through a real estate investment trust.

Nationwide Health Properties, a REIT based in Newport Beach, Calif., will own the Billings facility. Koelsch Communities has signed a 15-year lease with renewal options.

A REIT is a corporation that manages large pools of commercial properties, mortgages and other real estate assets. REITs enjoy significant tax advantages and the shares can be traded on the stock market.

Aaron Koelsch said his team scouted at least eight locations in Billings before settling on Broso Park.

Canyon Creek Memory Care will hire 75 full- and-part-time employees when it opens. The facility expects to have 90 percent of its beds filled in two years, Aaron Koelsch said.

But this facility is a private pay model and won't accept Medicaid patients.

“The costs could be as low as $3,300 or $3,400 per month or as high as $5,000 a month, depending on how far advanced the person is,” he said.

This progressive and fatal disease, which is the most common form of dementia, now affects 5.3 million Americans and is the seventh leading cause of death. Care costs are estimated at $172 billion per year, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

Aaron Koelsch is running the company that his parents, Alice Schultz Koelsch and Emmett Koelsch, started in 1958 when they opened a nursing home in Kelso, Wash. His parents are still living in the Olympia area and his wife, Judy Koelsch, handles the interior designs for the senior facilities.

RJ Development Services of Olympia, Wash., is the project developer. That means RJ Development handled the Bozeman and Billings market studies, site selection, zoning, permitting and state licensing and is overseeing the construction being handled by an in-house company, Koelsch Construction.

“We're project manager from beginning to end until we hand over the keys to them,” said RJ Development Vice President Jeff Yates.

Matt Brosovich of Billings, who is developing Broso Park, said the Washington company was attracted by easy access to Interstate 90 at the Shiloh Interchange and the fact that Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare both purchased large tracts of land on the West End for future expansion.

Nearby lodging at the Wingate and Hampton Inn & Suites also helped seal the deal, he said.

“Obviously with a long-term care, they're going to have people staying overnight and they're going to want to have hotels there,” he said.

Of the seven projects built so far in Broso Park, three are medical facilities: the Alzheimer's facility that recently broke ground; a $5.4 million private clinic that started construction in late summer; and the Veteran Affairs Billings Outpatient Clinic, which opened in September 2009.

“Doctors want to locate around medical facilities and the world has been leaning toward medical facilities with easy access,” Brosovich said.

Contact Jan Falstad at jfalstad@billingsgazette.com of 657-1306.

Contact Jan Falstad at jfalstad@billingsgazette.com of 657-1306.

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