The 7 Steps of Master Planning for Senior Living Communities

By Andy McLeod
Senior Living master planning

Senior living master planning essential to determining return on investment

Baby boomers are pushing the senior living market like no other generation before. Owners are rethinking all aspects of life for their residents from dining experiences to activity options. Residents are pushing the envelope yet again with the concept of aging in place.

Developing a reliable Master Plan for Aging in Place Senior Living is critical to determine the feasibility of the project and to determine a reliable return on investment. A Master Plan provides a way to determine future building and land utilization, and configuration. The analysis will also help define the size and appropriate location of the buildings, resident rooms, dining areas, therapy areas, and common areas. 

Step 1: Evaluate Existing Facilities

The first step of the Master Planning process is to conduct a building assessment survey of the existing facility to determine needed maintenance, stage of lifecycle, efficiency (operational and programmatic), and potential for re-use. This step includes a thorough review of the exterior of the building, safety code issues, structural analysis, review of the mechanical and electrical systems, ADA accessibility, and general space allocation.


Step 2: Land and Space Analysis

This phase includes evaluating the existing property and building location(s) to ensure that it meets the needs of the residents, staff, and financial performance. Operational efficiency and curb appeal also play a role in this analysis. At this point it is important to get feedback from residents and staff as well as thorough review of how the spaces functions. It is critical to spend time reworking and dreaming about what the existing land and structures can support in lieu of jumping to the open land or purchasing land.


Step 3: Review Potential Concepts

Several concept options should be created based on the analysis and feedback from the previous steps. Each concept is described in details and includes key information regarding design and construction estimates. Renderings should be part of this step, but these won’t be the type that you utilize for fundraising; rather, they will build an understanding of approach.  And don’t be afraid to let the architect know that you don’t understand where the concept is headed. We (as designers / planners) live in a world that constantly shifts back and forth between two-dimensional drawings, three-dimensional renderings and the built environment, and sometimes we forget that others live in Minimum Data Set (MDS), spreadsheets, and Electronic Health Records (EHR).


Step 4: Concept Development

After a concept is approved, development of the idea continues, and development of the drawings and the renderings begin. The extent of the development is up to you. The ideas can be brought through schematic design or left at a basic two-dimensional level. We often carry the renderings to a level supporting fundraising, financial buy-in, and resident understanding. With heavy interior renovation projects, we sometimes utilize virtual reality to explore and share the space. This works wonderfully for staff, leadership, and resident alike.


Step 5: Project Scheduling

A detailed schedule for potential projects and a timeline for design, construction, and occupancy phases is developed with design team, contractor, owners, and staff.


Step 6: Project Cost Estimate

A cost estimate is developed for the project that includes construction, fees, permits, furniture, equipment, and any potential land acquisition expenses. It is important that pricing is evaluated in terms of current value and future value and include the anticipated average inflation rates in the construction industry.


Step 7: Final Facilities Master Plan Report

The final master plan report includes documents created throughout the process including project goal, stakeholder feedback, cost analysis, and final concept renderings.


The Master Planning process can take as long as 12 months to complete due to the amount of data that needs to be gathered. However, at the end of the process you will have the documentation you need to run a successful fundraising initiative as well as a solid plan to begin the design and construction phase.


Andy McLeod brings more than a dozen years of senior living design experience to the team as our Senior Living Practice Leader. He has a driving passion to see residential settings for seniors transformed into spaces that feel like home. Andy has even taken the unusual step of becoming a Certified Dementia Practitioner to better understand how design can positively impact adults with memory loss.