A few nights ago, Mark Concha stayed up until the early hours talking to a new friend he'd made on campus at Oklahoma Christian University.
There's nothing out of the ordinary about a college student talking well into the night with a friend. But it's a bit more unusual when the two friends are separated in age by more than 50 years.
Last June, Concha and his wife, Vicki, were among 30 students who moved into Tealridge Retirement Community, a senior living facility owned by OC. Now, university officials are planning to convert the center into student housing over the next few years — a move university officials say will create more opportunities for conversations like the ones Concha already has been having with his neighbors.
Concha, 21, moved into Tealridge after university officials decided to use the building to house a few students temporarily while the university looked for other campus housing options.
Although the experience has been good, Concha said there are a few obvious differences between living in a campus apartment and living at Tealridge.
“It's different,” Concha said. “It's not a good idea to have a bunch of friends over late at night or cook bacon because of the smoke alarms.”
Although university officials originally had intended to house a few students at Tealridge as a temporary solution, enrollment growth prompted the university to look to the retirement home as a more permanent option, said Risa Forrester, OC's vice president for admissions and marketing.
University officials considered building new dorms and renovating existing apartment buildings that had fallen into disrepair. But those projects would have been expensive, Forrester said, and that cost would likely have been passed on to students in the form of tuition increases.
“We want to do our best to keep an Oklahoma Christian University education as affordable as possible,” she said. “We were looking at millions and millions to build new facilities.
Tealridge President Jay Jones said the retirement home wouldn't be asking any residents to move out in the near future. He hopes never to have to ask any residents to move, he said. The retirement home isn't taking new senior residents, Jones said. University officials expect to move students into the home as senior residents move out.
Since the announcement was made, residents have been uneasy about the future of the home, Jones said.
One of those residents, David Costine, said he's concerned he'll have to begin looking for a new place to live.
Costine, 95, has lived at Tealridge for three years. Residents there have developed a sense of camaraderie that he's concerned will go away if all the residents are forced to live elsewhere.
“It's like splitting up a whole family,” he said.
Two other residents, Bernelle DeMasters and Carolyn Golden, said they were initially worried about the move. But as they learned more about how the university planned to handle the transition, they felt better about it.
“It's calmed everybody down to a certain extent,” DeMasters said. “I'm not losing any sleep over it.”
Golden said the senior residents at Tealridge generally don't see the students who are already living there very often. The students don't eat at Tealridge, she said, and they only see each other when they pass in the hallway.
Although they said other residents may decide differently, both Golden and DeMasters said they didn't plan to move out of Tealridge once more students begin moving in.
“This is home,” Golden said.