The Item serves: West Boylston, Boylston, Clinton, Sterling, Lancaster, Clinton, and Bolton, Massachusetts
WEST BOYLSTON – The Briarwood Community came into being in 1984 and has slowly grown, accommodating more residents in cottages and apartments.
This summer, work is slated to start on an expansion at the site to add housing and reflect the changing needs of the community.
“It has evolved as a community,” CEO Paul Bowler said, expanding along the way to remain competitive, adding amenities.
Straddling the West Boylston and Worcester line, around the aptly named Briarwood Circle, Briarwood’s independent living ranges from cottages with minimal assistance to apartments that offer more help under one roof.
With recent approvals, the community will grow again, as it has in several phases over the years to its current 105 cottages and 64 apartments.
Briarwood grew, Bowler said, “built in increments by little groups of people with a lot of love.”
The project will include 24 apartments extending from the current facility by the administration building. The 40 underground parking spaces for residents will skip the need to clear snow off their cars, Bowler noted, while a full fitness center and lap pool will be added on the main level.
A 12-apartment memory care support center is also planned, with a back section that opens onto an enclosed garden.
In the current building, changes include a cafe area and fitness center.
“We can now take care of people who are challenged and provide a safe environment,” Bowler said of capabilities in the planned expansion.
The affiliated Knollwood facility completes the care continuum, he said.
The landscape has changed from the time when a person went from a home to a nursing home, Bowler acknowledged. Now various levels of assistance are available to keep people in active communities and involved in life.
The people becoming residents also join the Briarwood community later in life.
“That’s one of the benefits of community living,” with health benefits and social support networks.
A lot of couples face challenges, Bowler said, such as when they live in an independent cottage and one of them develops a need for more care. The new memory care unit would allow them to stay in the same complex rather than have to leave or uproot one.
The master plan, updated in 2012, included the project as a centerpiece, according to Bowler, who returned that year as CEO after having been gone four years working for a Masonic care project. He had started with Briarwood in 1999.
Since the master plan, a lot of work has been done behind the scenes, he said.
But now things are moving quickly, Bowler said, apologizing for the piles of papers in his office as the final pieces come into place from permits to financing.
Bowler said the $20 million project now has Planning Board approvals, accelerating the financing portion.
He said the construction part is also a moving target, noting the impact of world events such as recent tariffs.
“It has cost us $20,000,” he said. “It brings it right home. All the construction materials are starting to rise.”
Bowler said everything has come together, with financing through tax exempt bonds; the financing, however, requires pre selling some units.
He noted the Briarwood model is based on residents paying an “entry fee” which is sort of a “life lease,” which then is
partly applied to future costs, affecting the monthly fee. The goal is to “provide a full service community that more people can access.”
But he said the costs are close to the median sale price for homes in the area so many people can essentially transition.
A market feasibility study determined there is still unmet demand for the type of services Briarwood has offered since it was one of the first in Massachusetts in 1984.
“The area could absorb more of these living arrangements,” Bowler said.
Plus there is internal demand as needs change and people may move from one of the 105 cottages to one of the 64 apartments.
“People like the scale of the buildings and the idea of the neighborhoods.”
Bowler said he hopes to see work start in August, with a projected completion in September or October of 2019.