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Taking shape . . . An aerial view of Observatory Retirement Village, which will open on August 8. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

In a matter of days, the $22 million Observatory Retirement Village will open its doors.

One of the largest construction projects in North Otago history, the village has been in the making for several years.

Ian Hurst, an Observatory Village Charitable Trust trustee and director, recalls being invited to be a director of the Waitaki District Health Services Trust, which owns and operates Oamaru Hospital.

“While it’s the normal role of a board to look at the functionality of the business you’re running at that point in time, it’s also to look at the future of where the health service is going and how we cater for that,” Mr Hurst said.

“We could see that while we were being provided for very well by hospital care, rest-home care and dementia care .. we didn’t see that there was any likely provider that was going to come in and build something like a retirement village.”

A 2012 report commissioned by WDHS looked at Waitaki’s demographics, industry providers, the age and suitability of facilities, and the feasibility of developing a retirement village.

Mr Hurst said the independent report indicated it was unlikely aged-care facility providers were willing to build a retirement village in Oamaru.

“If we were to be looking at providing for our current and future elderly, it was going to be something that needed to be driven on the back of our local community.”

At the time, the WDHS trust had funds available to further develop healthcare services in Waitaki.

“To do what we were proposing .. was going to require more than the $5.6 million that the trust had available to proceed.”

After significant discussion and sharing of information with the Waitaki District Council, the council approved a loan of $8 million to proceed with the project in October 2015.

Construction started in February 2016.

Stage one includes a 41-bed care facility for hospital and rest-home care, 12 apartments, 18 villas and a 1000sq m community wing.

However, due to the closure of aged-care facilities Totara Lodge, Rendell on Reed and Takaro Lodge at Oamaru Hospital, Mr Hurst said there were 44 fewer beds for hospital and rest-home care than in 2012, which he said was “seriously disturbing”.

It was initially thought it would take 20 months to fill the 41 care beds.

However, all those beds will be full come August 8, when residents move into the village.

All 12 apartments and the first five villas have been sold. The apartments will be occupied by the end of August and the villas by the end of November.

That means stage two of the project is on the cards.

“The reality is, we’re seeing some quite strong demand for additional apartments,” Mr Hurst said. “We’re also seeing a continued gap in that care-bed market and the trust have said we need to keep this project moving forward.

“We’re in the process of looking at the possibility of what stage two would look like. Stage two includes the construction of some additional apartments and, in reality, the construction of maybe some more care beds.

“It’s not going to be a project that sits and goes to sleep. It will be demand-driven.”

Looking back, Mr Hurst is proud of what has been achieved.

“It’s pretty jolly exciting .. it’s been all-consuming for a lot of people.”

The village is owned and operated by the Observatory Village Charitable Trust, established by WDHS.