CLOUQET, Minnesota. – As people age and become elderly, they often face the reality of needing additional care and support. It could be help with cooking, cleaning, or laundry. Or, it could be improved access to transportation, medical care, and social services. At the Fond du Lac Indian reservation in Cloquet, Minn., providing adequate support for seniors has been an ongoing challenge. The Fond du Lac Band provides home care, but they have not, until recently, offered full-service, 24-hour housing to tribal elderly. That’s changing. “There’s a need for community members to have a place to live when they are no longer able to stay safely in their home,” said Deb Smith, public health nursing department coordinator for the Fond du Lac Band. “In the past, tribal members had to leave our community to find assisted living, and they often end up in an unfamiliar setting.”
To address this challenge and build an assisted-living center on the reservation, the Fond du Lac Band called upon DSGW Architects. “They came to us with the idea to build a prototype assisted-living facility that could, if successful, be replicated throughout their reservation,” said Randy Wagner, DSGW partner.
The idea was to build a facility that was more residential in nature—instead of a traditional nursing home—to provide a welcoming, warm, and familiar environment for elderly tribal members.
Using their expertise in medical facility design, DSGW staff created the Fond du Lac Band’s first on-site housing center for seniors. The result is a new, ten-room assisted living facility, conveniently located on reservation land. “Our members now have a place to go, right down the road from their families and friends,” said Smith.
Each room in the facility offers a kitchenette, living area, private bedroom, walk-in closet, and accessible bathroom. Further amenities include an activity area, a family great room for dining, a central laundry facility, and office space for the reservation’s home health care nursing program. Finally, the new facility offers a beautician area, a residential kitchen for making goodies or an ice cream treat, and a commercial kitchen large enough to serve the existing building plus a possible future addition. The culture of the tribe will be carried throughout the facility by showcasing artwork, such as artifacts and photos, from local artists.
The new building faces south to capture light and heat during Minnesota’s cold winter months, and offers a four-season porch and cozy sunroom plus a drive-under canopy to shelter residents from inclement weather. Behind the new facility, the private backyard has a shaded area with attractive gazebo, a garden for use by residents, and a walking trail that surrounds the building. Indoor mobility, of course, is also an important consideration. “In our northern climate, it’s important for residents to be able to walk inside,” said Wagner. “The building, therefore, is arranged in a loop. Traffic patterns are circular, so that people can walk freely throughout the complex.”
During the planning, financing, and building of their new assisting living facility, Fond du Lac staff members appreciated DSGW’s experience working with tribal governments. “We’ve worked with DSGW for many years,” said Smith. “They’re very professional, they know our corporate structure, and they’re open to suggestions.”
“We understand tribal construction planning and the various approval processes,” added Wagner. “Owners expect a high level of expertise in these areas and that’s what DSGW delivers.”