Construction was just about wrapped up on Pleasanton's newest senior care community in early October when disaster struck in Sonoma and Napa counties, leaving seniors at the company's Sunrise Villa Sonoma assisted living facility needing to evacuate.
In a stroke of fortune amid the chaos, Sunrise Senior Living found itself with an all-but-completed complex in Pleasanton without any residents, about a week out from its official opening date.
So the company scrambled to put together key finishing touches and work with city, fire and state agencies to accelerate early permitting to allow Sunrise of Pleasanton to temporarily house 65 Sunrise Villa Sonoma residents until the wildfires dissipated.
"It was really a great coordination of efforts," said Sunrise of Pleasanton executive director Melissa Malek. "It's sort of amazing that an entire community was evacuated, some of those residents having memory care, and we just happened to have an empty memory care."
"It was really just kind of meant to be," Malek added.
"Opening the doors a week in advance to be 100% ready and having 65 new faces -- literally all at once, every bus rolling up and we're just getting people off and literally in five minutes we have an entirely full dining room and we're in go-mode -- it was a bit of a shock, but a pleasant one," said Sarah Dillon, regional director of operations.
"It was really quite a joy to see the building being used for the purpose ... and just the life that came into it was pretty rewarding," Dillon said.
The Sonoma seniors stayed at Sunrise of Pleasanton for three weeks until their facility was safe to return to. During the last two weeks of that time, the Pleasanton complex also began welcoming permanent residents who'd registered to move in when Sunrise officially opened here.
Sunrise of Pleasanton, now approaching full capacity, has already become a close-knit, thriving community, according to Malek.
But the journey to this point was a long one, for Sunrise and for Pleasanton.
Sunrise Senior Living first applied for a permit to open one of its first facilities in Pleasanton in 1982, but that proposal didn't come to fruition. Sunrise administrators resurfaced in 2008, but economic concerns during the recession eventually put that effort on hold.
The company returned in fall 2015 with detailed plans for developing the site, and construction began in late winter 2016.
The two-story Sunrise of Pleasanton facility can accommodate up to 103 residents among its 82 rooms. The full-service facility is geared toward seniors 60 years old and older with physical health or memory loss considerations.
It is the newest of 26 Sunrise facilities in Northern California, joining nearby locations such as Sunrise of Danville on Diablo Road and Sunrise of Walnut Creek on Ygnacio Valley Road.
Pleasanton is the type of community Sunrise looks for, and the need for senior care housing certainly exists in the Tri-Valley, according to Dillon.
"It's a wonderful, very family-oriented community and a welcoming area," Dillon said. "We want to have our Sunrise communities in those kinds of locations and sort of embed ourselves into the fabric of the local stores, neighborhoods, church groups and schools. We really believe in being collaborative."
The apartment units, available with several floor plans on month-to-month leases, consist of 34 on the first floor dedicated to memory care and 48 for assisted living on the second floor. The ground floor is divided for memory care, with one side being the "Terrace" rooms for seniors with earlier signs of memory loss and "Reminiscence" for those with more advanced symptoms.
There are four dining rooms spread across the building -- resident units do not have kitchens -- along with a small movie/TV theater, a courtyard with gardens and activity rooms for exercise, lecture and other classes throughout the day focused on "engaging mind, body and spirit," Malek said.
Sunrise of Pleasanton is staffed 24/7 with more than 60 employees in all, including care, nursing, housekeeping and administrative staff.
Officials hope to develop a connection within the community, so each resident has a personalized shadow box outside their room with personal photos and heirlooms to help the seniors and Sunrise staff get to know each other.
Cynthia, a Pleasanton resident whose mother moved into Sunrise of Pleasanton memory care in November, said she's already experienced that positive connection.
"I was very pleased because it was the first time I saw memory care that had an open feeling and nice facilities," said Cynthia, who asked that her last name be withheld to help protect her mother's privacy.
"It really gives her the dignity she deserves, and she really, really enjoys it here," she added. "The worse thing is to feel you're putting your parent in a place you wouldn't want to live in. I would want to live here ... so I can breathe easy and I know that the staff is supportive."
Sunrise of Pleasanton is located at 5700 Pleasant Hill Road, just off Stoneridge Drive before the Foothill Road intersection. Sunrise administration declined to reveal the total cost of the project, saying the pricetag would remain private at this time.
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