(Updated at 2:45 p.m.) When residents at McLean’s Vinson Hall Retirement Community wanted outdoor recreation during the pandemic, retired Marine Col. Mike Cluff grabbed a pickax and sledgehammer and built the sought-after amenity himself.
Decades before he became a resident at Vinson Hall (6251 Old Dominion Dr.), Cluff oversaw the building of an encampment in Vietnam and was present during the Tet Offensive in 1968.
More recently, he put his “keep moving” mentality to use to construct horseshoe and bocce ball pits for the McLean retirement community, an approximately 400-room facility that focuses on caring for military veterans and their families as well as high-ranking former federal government employees.
“The genesis of this was…everyone wanted to play outside,” Michelle Crone, director of philanthropy and engagement for the Navy Marine Coast Guard Residence Foundation, said.
As Vinson Hall’s philanthropic arm, the foundation supports facility renovations and provides financial assistance to residents in need.
Cluff, 82, was motivated to construct the horseshoe and bocce pits by fellow Vinson Hall resident Midge Holmes, who is active with getting people involved and wanted residents to be able to play horseshoes.
After looking up plans for horseshoe pits online, Cluff worked with the retirement community to get the materials he needed and spent a few weeks during the spring of 2020 finishing the project, which is located on the site of a former house that was demolished years ago and is now becoming an outdoor recreation area.
Vinson Hall later added artificial turf to the horseshoe and bocce ball pits to help with maintenance. A multi-surface area next to them is under construction and could facilitate more outdoor activities, such as pickleball, which was played inside at the facility until the pandemic halted it.
The new outdoor recreational area is one of several capital projects that Vinson Hall has undertaken during the pandemic after getting a financial boost, thanks to a Fairfax County Economic Development Authority measure that let the retirement community refinance bonds that had been previously issued to fund campus improvements.
Vinson Hall Chief Financial Officer Rick Bova says the move will bring savings and help improve the lives of residents and staff by supporting property upgrades and salary increases for staff.
The retirement community is refinancing around $70 million in debt to get a savings of some $10 million to $12 million over a 12-year period with the economic development assistance, he says. The FCEDA approved the measure on June 14, and the money is being facilitated by Truist Bank.
“In our business, every dollar counts,” Bova said.
Among the ongoing improvements is a renovation of The Sylvestery (1728 Kirby Rd.), a memory care unit that assists residents with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Other proposed changes include enhanced lighting and other additions to the memory care unit’s sensory room, which offers an array of items for residents to touch and interact with, from stuffed animals to tropical colored bowling pins.
Called a sensory oasis, the room helps patients with dementia calm down, says Antionette Doublin, senior director and administrator of the skilled nursing facility Arleigh Burke Pavilion and The Sylvestery. Research shows that multisensory sessions can help verbal agitation and provide other benefits.
“So, we bring them in here, and it calms them down,” Doublin said.
The Sylvestry is also getting a central kitchen area that can host cooking demonstrations. The project is currently under construction and could be finished in two to three weeks.
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