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Episode 70: Siobhan Winfrey

Don’t miss a great conversation with Siobhan Winfrey about building the right team for every project.

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Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast with Josh and Lucas. We are at the EFA conference, here in where are we? We’re in Salt Lake City, Utah and it’s hard for me to even tell that we’re here because yesterday was like in the mid-seventies and the Wind of Change is blowing in and it’s going to get very cold very quickly, but I want to transition into our esteemed guess today. Today we have on the show, Siobhan Winfrey. She is an associate principal architect at D2 in Dallas. Welcome. 

Siobhan: Thank you. 

Lucas: So glad to have you on the show and what brings you to a conference like EFA? 

Siobhan: It’s a great conference. We come here yearly and just to be with your peers, learn from each other. There’s so many companies and firms that are pushing the envelope and just to learn from each other, really. 

Lucas: And this is a great environment to do that, Josh. We came here last year for the first time and really realized a lot of thought leadership that is going on centered on seniors housing; it was very enlightening. 

Josh: Yeah, so as operator, developer, as general contractor, we go to a lot of conferences, but EFA offers something very unique we found last year in Savannah and so it was a place we had to put on our bucket list for this year and it’s a great environment. Love it and so many innovative ideas, so many innovators like you thanks for being on our show today. Looking forward to the discussion. 

Lucas: Well today’s discussion is going to be a great topic because Josh, you have a big development background. You’re in operations. I mean, there’s a lot of things that can go wrong in the pre-planning of starting out of a project and so we’re going to start to dive in today on how do we build a team? Who are the right people to get in the seeds to help organize this type of a project all the way through another topic which is pre-construction? 

Before we get into that, Siobhan, tell us about your background and what has led you into your passion for senior living. 

Siobhan: So, I’m so grateful for my background. I’m thinking last century is where I started my career and it was in an office and it was very great. It is a good foundation for developing how to put a building together really quickly, rules of thumb- things like how much square footage do you need for parking, surface parking. How much do you need for a structured parking? Things like that. So knowing that and having that foundation, that was just a really good to have that and bring that into the senior living industry because senior living is just so complex. That’s what I love about it. There’s always something to learn from it. 

I mean you think about it, it’s got I-2, I-1, depending on what state you’re in. You’ve got A2 assembly; you’ve got S2 for parking. If you’ve got structured parking, you’ve got R2. I mean, it’s just all this wonderful mixed-use occupancies coming together and co-existing together. And from the operator standpoint, you’ve got those challenges of bringing everybody together and taking care of them. 

So it’s just very interesting to me that it’s just always dynamic and always evolving. 

Josh: So it’s fascinating. So 14, almost 15 years of doing a lot of new development across the southeast, it’s interesting. You touched on it’s always a learning experience. I’ve never had one project that’s gone exactly identical and it’s so fun to me to always be learning and no matter what you’re looking at, you’re always looking at systems improvement and processes and things like that. But even what you just talked about That’s all the different I-2s and I-1s and things- that can be like a complete foreign language to some of the team that circle around. 

So there’s so many disciplines I have found through the years that have to kind of assemble around that planning process in this area that we call pre-construction which is kind of a big milestone in any project but everything prior to that construction. So really look forward to hearing how your experience can inform that process. 

Lucas: Siobhan, so, when you sit down, there’s a customer that’s come in and they say we really, we’ve got a project that’s in the works. We found a site. We have some ideas, but we’re not exactly sure how to go from A to Z. 

Start us through walking. Walk through that process of the beginning conversations. 

Siobhan, So, I think the first thing is before we put pen to paper, we’ve got to understand our client and everybody has different communities. Even having a multi-site community, it can be different culturally and we want to know- we want to really understand what is that wow factor that differentiates you from another community? And so how can we foster that in the design throughout the process of the design to fulfill that wow factor? 

So we start at a really high level with the concept package and that concept package will later be hopefully delivered to a pre-construction contractor to help us really define systems. So systems meaning, what is your NEP system look like? Are you looking at cool water chillers? Are you with an air-cooled chillers? Are you looking at VRF? DX units? I mean, it’s that complex, but at a very high-level, summarizing a narrative so that we can not waste your time during a design process from schematic design all the way to construction documents wasting our time. We really know with a pre-construction contract, can you afford that street up without going too far down a pipeline? 

Josh: So that pre-construction contractor. So, let’s boil that down to kind of lower it down a little bit to what does that mean? So that means basically your client goes out and hires a general contractor to engage them for a pre-construction contract to where they’re basically engaged to after the concept is being kind of flushed out, to basically cost estimate? 

Siobhan: Yes, cost estimate. It’s really just defining your scope to budget. What can you afford? I mean we have an idea, usually the client has an idea. They’ve got a certain amount of independent living, let’s say they’re doing independent living, they have a certain amount that they want to fulfill there. If they’re doing assisted living (or) memory care, they’ve got to mix there. If they’re doing skilled nurse, they’ve got a mix there. So understanding that, understanding their culture really first off too is key because can we deliver that in a community? 

Josh: So in that team composition, we’ve heard general contractor, obviously architect design teams involved. I’m assuming your client would typically be like the developer or maybe developer-operator.

Siobhan: Could be the end-user, yeah. 

Josh: And so typically you have your operator, your general contractor, your design team and are they all part of this kind of creative discussion? We’re talking concept on day one or do they come in at different points? 

Siobhan: It may not be day one. We made just get a better understanding of what the client is looking for, understanding culture, and then once that happens, say two weeks into it, then we say, okay, here are the MEP firms that we recommend for you guys. You know, here is a structural engineer that we recommend.

Food service is key, you know, if you think about seniors are eating at least 3 times a day, that’s the heartbeat of your community. And so making sure, and a lot of times that’s your smallest piece of the pie for the consultant team. So, making sure that they’re involved early on. What’s your menu look like? What kind of menu are you delivering back at house? What’s that back of house? What are the services that you have? Are you outsourcing laundry? Are you outsourcing food delivery? Things like that. So that’s key understanding that straight up, out the, you know. When you’re developing this concept package, we have to understand that and that’s instrumental in how we lay that out and how that flows. 

Josh: So, dining is such a huge piece. Do you find, are you guys usually recommending a consultant or is someone bringing in their own consultant for that plan, process, review of the dining services and departments from the concept on? Is that another seat at the table as far as a person? 

Siobhan: Yes, and that would be another consultant. 

Josh: And so, with D2, you guys, you already have kind of an arsenal of contacts that you typically do that with. 

Siobhan: We have a pool of consultants that we trust and have been with us for over 10 years now and really, really know the senior living appetite. 

Josh: Well, that’s fascinating. And so we were talking a lot and I told Lucas I think one of the keys to a productive and a successful project is when you start talking pre-construction, just assembling the right team. So we’ve already heard there’s like five potential seats at the table sometimes just to get yourself through an excellent concept to kind of know where you are on your budget, your design and design a successful concept. 

Lucas: Mentioning design, when is the right point for interior design to come into this conversation? 

Siobhan: I would involve them during the concept design, because what we need to do is get the narrative from them and understand what level of finishes are we looking at to do? So when you think about it, the seniors are going to be in that community day in and day out so you wanna make sure that they like the space that they’re in so I would involve them. Anytime you can get all the players that are involved design-wise early on it’s going to be a lot better in the long run.

Josh: So, that process of just team compilation, does that solve most of the potential pitfalls, you know, bumps in the road for projects as they get through that kind of pre-construction phase or are there some other just glaring things that you can inform us on? Hey, these are some things just through life lessons and experience that you want to avoid in this pre-construction phase?  

Siobhan: I think having a contractor that understands the region, the markets. You know, we go in (and) we work East Coast, West Coast. So we can make a recommendation and say in Florida. Let’s say for example go ahead to use stick, its could be affordable. Maybe that’s not the right solution. And we use block there because of the region but we need to hear that from the contractor so that contractor if they have the savvy, they know the market locally than that’s very helpful. 

Josh: What I imagine is that probably plays through that logic through everything cuz I you know, I see it a lot even within our platform, you know, what works in certain parts of the Southeast doesn’t necessarily work operationally in all parts of the Southeast. So from the operator seat at the table, them really understanding the market, how to position the product? How it’s going to be different? What’s the culture and things like that? And so I would imagine just every member of that team really understanding that market. What is your dining program going to look like, you know? Because we know that people in the Southwest, their menus a lot different than the people in the Southeast perhaps. So, fascinating.

Lucas: Well, Siobhan, when you mentioned things like the mechanical structure or is it going to be chilly or is it going to be the best dining, the menu? Some of that seems obvious for the reasons why you would ask that question, but could you cut, maybe uncover deeper into the weeds the reasons why did you ask those detailed questions? Is it flow of design? Is it trying to minimize value engineering or just saying, like, well, if we put the dining room here and you’re going to do these types of services then we need to design it in a certain way to minimize or maximize your flow? What items behind into the weeds are you asking these questions for? 

Siobhan: We break into systems. So mechanical is one big piece of the pie when you think about cost and so we really want to identify that because it establishes how much space you need that’s gonna eat up your floor plate. So understanding, is it going to be a 4 pipe system? That’s really your Cadillac of HVAC systems and so can we usually start their we give them, our clients, options and and go down the line. Okay, if you can’t afford that, then what can you do? Can you do the next best would be BBRF and then the X, you know, if they’re holding on to that product that made they want that Cadillac options. So I’m going to give him the best product that they can afford. So that’s that’s why we look at that from a very high level and then that will dictate how the rooms are circulating around then. 

Lucas: Excellent. 

Josh: And the affordability of the products too. So many people now are you not talking about everything like affordable senior living or more affordable senior living and understanding the cost on the front end of the total project and the development of all of that has a direct impact on what you can charge that consumer, what your rents can be and things like that. So I find so often, and I don’t know if you see this, but we definitely do as operator that although we’re talking about, hey, this is kind of like the perfect scenario, this is how you need to build out your team and what you’re thinking about, so often we are brought out way later in the process. 

Siobhan: Yeah, and you’re the end user. 

Josh: And yeah, we’re the end user and you know, maybe the developer that has been residential or multi-family or some other industry has been very successful in their team process. But, you know senior housing more than a lot of those different verticals is very, very operator centric, very operator centric. So, you know, we find so often that if you don’t have the right team composition and you don’t have the right architect group that understands if we don’t get all of this right in the concept phase and we don’t have the general contractor on and we don’t go through these processes then we can wind up way down the road with all kinds of change orders with having to resubmit plans to the state and things like that. So, delays in the project which equates to lost time which is lost revenue. 

So how often are you seeing that while we talk about the perfect world? You know, it’s not so perfect and we’re having to try to backtrack. Do you guys get that alot or does it seem like you guys are usually there right on the front end and the operators there with you and all the team? 

Siobhan: We have been so savvy- sorry not savvy. We’ve been working with savvy clients. So we’ve been lucky in that regard and you know they trust us so, you know, I can’t think of maybe only a handful and those usually are not our repeat clients. So our repeat clients, usually they listen to us. They understand that that’s a need. Let’s go ahead and do that. 

Josh: Well, you know today, you know one of our hopes in having you on because we have so many people in our growing audience that are listening that are like, gosh, we want to get into senior housing or a developer or whoever and we want to put this together, but we’re not sure the right steps. So I know talking through best practice today, team composition and the processes you go through his got to be super informative, wouldn’t you say so, Lucas? 

Lucas: I think so and I think there’s a, I’ll say quote, un-quote an old debate is senior living. Is it hospitality or is it healthcare and we know that it’s really all of those things put into one and I think that mistakes have been made in the past by utilizing really talented architects, really talented designers, really talented construction professionals in the hospitality industry, in the multifamily industry, but there is something unique and complex to your point, Siobhan, complex about a deep understanding of the culture of senior living. How do you think, how much, and D2 is 100% focused on senior housing as you are Josh and as I am too, how do you think that uniqueness plays into the execution of an excellent project? 

Siobhan: That’s a great question. I think you’re going back to my foundation and office, I think when we think how efficient can you make that floor plate and how efficient can you make that garage? You know, when you think about what who is the person that’s using this building? They’re not going to be, they’re going to want the travel distance reduced. We understand what is the ideal or what is the maximum travel distance that you’d want to senior before they go to a dining venue. Think about how far a unit is on a floor plan or you know, how far- what that time to get to the actual dining venue. Or if they’re in a structured parking garage, we may have to maximize that you know, we may have to bump up those ratios to like for structured parking at support 50 over when it’s under a building instead of a 400 ratio. So things like that that we wouldn’t normally play out in multifamily and office. So we just have different rules of thumbs that we’re working with. 

Josh: So what are some, I want to jump ahead and I don’t want to take us too far off topic here, but you know, one of the things Lucas touched on hospitality, healthcare and things like that, but curious to see, you know, we’re talking a lot here at the conference and in hearing a lot of things around different hot topics, different trends and where senior housing is going and think everybody wants to kind of weight in on that. 

So what are some of the trends that you’re seeing and I’m hearing a lot of terminology and I’m I’m getting a lot of requests to have conversation around mixed-use and how that applies, does it apply? Is senior living going to be applicable in mixed-use? But what are some trends that you guys are seeing and working on? 

Siobhan: I think mixed-use certainly has a piece of the pie. I don’t think that’s the only solution and it’s not for everybody and it’s something we’re interested in, certainly. I think it’s great because it gives us in your is a purpose as a part of a greater community. We see a lot of farm to table so having community gardens, that’s also good outreach to the outer community where you can have food programs where that helps out our community and also is therapeutic. 

I think we need to solve the skilled nursing issue. You know, how do we you know, a lot of CCRCs, life plan communities day, that’s their mission to serve that, whether they can do it or not financially, but they do it. But we need to find that way, that bridge between the hospitals and health care and skilled nursing. How do we bridge that? That’s not there yet and I think we’re at a fork in the road on that. I think we’ll be looking at something new in the next 5 years, I hope.

Josh: Absolutely, it’s amazing where the trends are going. On that topic of mixed-use and on the farm to table things, I’m really intrigued by that. So on the farm to table specifically, is that something that you see applicable in any of the models whether it’s a suburban or rural or urban. Can it work and be designed in any of that or is that more of like a suburban and rural model? 

Siobhan: I think you can do it in both. 

Josh: Yeah, so tell us. Give us an example of how that can work. 

Siobhan: So we actually looked at implementing this in a community, Legacy at Midtown Park in Dallas, and it’s not urban-urban but it’s in an urban, Dallas area and we looked at it’s kind of a cherry on top, if you don’t have the land so going back to rural or suburban area, if you don’t have the land you can do a greenhouse, hydroponics. You can look at hydroponics as an option and it’s kind of a cherry on top. You’re not supplying the bulk of your food, but it’s the garnish and it’s also just very attractive to look at. 

Josh: And I’m assuming is that something that you see resident programming from that perspective? They’re getting involved in that? 

Siobhan: Yeah, you have to have a champion that will take that on because it does need attending to and attention. So having that from an operator standpoint, making sure that that moves forward, because that is a full-time focus.

Josh: Well. I’m seeing that so much, at least from my perspective is a trend as I’m talking to other operators and designers is that so much of the design now is looking not just to care for the resident or care for the patient, but it’s how do we gauge them? And you know that that whole farm to table concept and even getting the residents involved in some purposeful activity. I love that. I love that you’re kind of coming at it from not only how you provide something for the community and that’s beneficial, but how can you provide something for the residents to be involved in? So I love that concept. 

Siobhan: And it’s therapy too, if you think you can have it in such a way where people can use it for sensory reasons, visual reasons. It’s it’s been good program I think. 

Lucas: I have some insider knowledge. D2 does a lot of outside education. You guys are big on thought leadership within your organization and I believe, talk to us about I think that you guys have done some sleepovers inside communities. Tell us about that experience and then if you would recommend that. 

Siobhan: We’ve been doing this you’ve been collecting data for over 10 years now and so everybody in our office, every employee doesn’t matter who you are, you go to a community and actually I’ll give an example. I went to Indiana and went to a community there and I was assigned an ailment and I didn’t know what that was until I arrived. So I went to skilled nursing community there. I had a fictitious hip replacement and so I was there sitting there in a wheelchair for the next 7 hours. And so I think I have enough upper body strength, but you know I don’t look stupid super strong and I’m just thinking you know that I may be fast forward 30 years later, I might not be a strong and just negotiating floor transitions that was a little bit of a challenge. So, that, it helps us go back to the drawing board, so to speak, and really understand what are the things that are important? It’s the tiny details like where’s the light switch? Does that mean to be positioned there? Can we push it over a little bit? Can we get some more counter space especially in memory care scenarios? 

If it’s your kind of our natural instinct to place a sink right in center of a vanity, but you know, if you think of dementia you want that staging ground so you can sequence your toothbrush, your toothpaste and then the next, things like that. So it’s it’s really eye-opening for staff to see that and we journal it and we share our thoughts and it’s just full circle. Great.

Josh: Wow. So how often does that kind of sleepover, activity occur within your team?

Siobhan: So, at least once for every staff member, but people are welcome to do as many as they want. 

Josh: That is fascinating. I agree. So, similar story. I may have shared this with you Lucas, but when I first got into senior care 14 years ago, I knew nothing about senior living. I had grandparents and that was about as close to seniors as I was but the owner of the company was very I thought forward-thinking and actually had me stay in the community for a whole summer and literally I worked every job in that community, commuting back and forth on the weekends and things like that, but the eye-opening experience from even like what is a community like at night? It gives you a whole new perspective. So I really appreciate that kind of intuitiveness of the process that you guys go through. 

Lucas: It’s a great thing and I think that if more people- I think as senior living, I’ve heard this being said at a lot of the conferences, it’s no longer the side dish. It’s really the main dish and we love to invite people to come and experience this industry because they will fall in love with it. It has a way of doing that to really good people which is really what makes up this industry. 

Siobhan, thank you so much for being here. How, if people that are listening, they have questions further they want to talk more about pre-construction and how to build a team and maybe they’re looking at projects, what would be the best way for them to get into contact or maybe the questions that they should be asking?

Siobhan: I mean just give us a ring. Email, phone call. 

Josh: Well, we’ll definitely connect the audience to you guys in our show notes that we post up every week on our website and on social media and sounds like you are open to our audience reaching out to you as well so we’ll connect with you. 

Lucas: And that’d be great. And we’d love for our audience, right now, if you’re listening, let’s ask a question. Go onto our LinkedIn page, our Instagram page, our Facebook page, you know, what are you seeing as far as design trends? What are some things that you’re wanting to see that maybe you’re not seeing in your existing community? Pose those questions and Siobhan, we’ll forward those throughout our team and get Siobhan to maybe engage back with you guys. 

But we’d love to engage back with our audience and thank you for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.

Thank you to our supporting partners NHI, RCare, NRC Health, TSOLife, ERDMAN and Sherpa.

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Episode 70: Siobhan Winfrey