SUBLETTE — For now James Morris lives a mile outside of town, but when the day arrives to downsize he wants a choice.
Sublette is home to 1,453 people, and 36 percent are 50 and older. However, there aren’t any apartments specifically for older adults in town.
That’s why Morris, who turns 84 this month, decided to create Red Oak Villa, catering to senior residents.
It’s the kind of place where he’d like to live when the time comes, rather than a small room and communal living, which is what the senior housing unit in neighboring Satanta offers.
“I thought about it for a long time,” Morris said.
He specifically had his eye on a 450-foot-by-150-foot parcel of bare grass on the south edge of the town’s Main drag known as Inman Street. It came up for sale about a year ago.
“The point was, there was nothing for older renters in the community,” he said.
He bought the land and turned to Wolters Construction, Hugoton, a father-and-son operation, to build the three units.
This spring, Morris plans to plant red oaks on the property.
Filling a need
Wolters broke ground in August, and then just after Labor Day poured the floors. Wolters and Morris held an open house last Saturday at the triplex on the south edge of town, and plan to again from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday.
With the help of an architect, Morris came up with an identical floor plan for each of the 1,400-square foot units. The only difference is that one doesn’t have a garage. Instead, there is a storm shelter, a must during Kansas’ tornado season. It will be for all the residents of Red Oak Villa. The strength of the shelter’s door was tested by shooting a 2-by-4 at it, said Rick Wolters, owner of Wolters Construction.
The floor plan is designed with the elderly in mind. There are 3-foot wide doorways that are handicap accessible. A shower off the master bedroom also offers access for a wheelchair.
Each unit has two bedrooms, two baths, a spacious kitchen with quartz countertops, dining area, and living room. They have tile floors and carpeting, the floor space is alike, and each includes a laundry room with a washer and dryer, and plenty of closet space.
Each has a sliding glass door opening to a small patio, enclosed by a cedar fence.
“James insisted on this for privacy,” said Nate Wolters, who works with his father in the family’s construction business.
The units were built to have room enough for company and hosting family dinners.
“You could get 15 to 20 people around the table comfortably for Thanksgiving,” Nate Wolters said as he glanced at the open dining room area.
“He didn’t scrimp on anything,” Nate said.
The plan is to appeal to a different market. The cabinets in the apartments are either red oak or natural hickory. Woodwork Manufacturing in Hutchinson provided the woodwork for the casings and trim.
Morris, a local farmer, privately funded the project. He hasn’t decided on rental fees yet. However, residents will need to sign an agreement that there will be no pets, no smoking and no hoarding.
While the county’s district hospital is 7 miles west in Satanta, there is a medical clinic in Sublette.
Jamie Wright, director of the Sublette Library, is happy about the new addition to the community.
“I think it’s great for the community, and Sublette is an aging community,” Wright said.
Nate Wolters says Morris’ dream is unique.
“Jim exemplifies the pioneer spirit,” Wolters said.
Morris relates to the people he hopes will be his renters. He wants them to age with dignity rather than living in a dorm room in an assisted living facility, Wolters said.
Meanwhile, Morris has space for the Wolters to build six more units on the property. But he’ll wait and see if the first three are popular.
“I hope it grows,” he said.