Retirement community becomes economic force

RIVERMEAD: Expanding business  develops into major  employer, taxpayer  at just the right time  in Peterborough

  • RiverMead employs many students from local high schools in its kitchens and dining rooms
  • RoryWeinreic h, a ConVal student, fills water glasses in a RiverMead dining room as Michael Gens, who attends Keene State College, checks on the serving area.
  • Savannah Karlsen, a senior at Conant High School, pipes chocolate tofu silk into dessert cups in the RiverMead kitchen.
  • Andrew Pierce, a ConVal High School students, washes serving trays in the RiverMead kitchen.
  • RiverMead resident Ed Ham chats with dining room staffers Colin Desrosiers of Peterborough and Stephanie Leandri of Francestown prior to dinner on Friday.
  • Barkev Kassarjian, left, and Kevork Toroyan, his classmate from Aleppo College in Syria, dining in the stone courtyard of the Yasmeen d'Alep hotel in Aleppo during Kassarjian's visit to Syria in 2010.

PETERBOROUGH — After completion of its 60-unit Village campus in April, just across Powersbridge Road from the main campus, the RiverMead retirement community is now home to nearly 300 people. And in the 18 years since it opened, RiverMead has become an economic bastion — not only one of the area’s leading employers but the source of $4 million, above and beyond its payroll, that’s invested annually in Peterborough and the surrounding towns.

RiverMead will have an operating budget of about $14 million in 2014, according to Chief Executive Officer Bill James, up nearly a million dollars for this year’s budget. The company employs 265 people, including 116 who work full time, and allocates about $5 million annually for wages and benefits. The majority of those workers live within 20 miles of the campus.

“We’re blessed to be viewed as a good employer,” James said during an interview in his office last week. “We have a very stable housekeeping and maintenance and nursing staff. People who come to work here tend to stay a while.”

RiverMead may well serve as a model of success as many smaller New Hampshire towns look to build a significant portion of their local economies around growing retirement communities. RiverMead’s recent expansion has indeed provided much-needed revenue for the town of Peterborough, and it has become a main economic hub for employees, both young and established.

The company also is the largest taxpayer in the town of Peterborough, paying more than $550,000 in property taxes this year.

“We’ll pay about $950,000 in 2014,” James said. “The Village will add about $400,000 to our tax bill.”

Although RiverMead is a 501(c) nonprofit organization, it has paid property taxes, rather than setting up a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement like many nonprofits do, ever since the first buildings were approved in the early 1990s.

“That was an agreement made early on, during the planning process, that we would always pay taxes,” James said. “When we talked about adding the Village we agreed to continue.”

Most RiverMead residents have ties to the community, according to Jan Eaton, RiverMead’s director of resident services and marketing.

“About 65 percent lived in the region before moving in here,” Eaton said. “Others had summer homes, and many have children living in the area.”

The average age of residents living in the older section, which is now known as the Mead campus, is 83. The average age of those in the Village is 72.

“That’s what happens when you have an expansion,” James said. “You often attract a younger group.”

A majority of the RiverMead residents live in cottages or independent living apartments, many of them drive and the facility provides regular transportation for shopping, dining out and appointments. Those residents steadily pump money into the local economy. “You can’t measure it, but it’s significant,” James said.

What can be calculated is the impact of RiverMead’s purchases. James said $5.5 million of non-payroll expenditures are invested in New Hampshire, with about $4 million of that amount going to businesses in Peterborough and surrounding towns.

Eaton said RiverMead expects to add staff as the Village campus becomes fully occupied.

“There’s always normal turnover on our dining and wait staff, as students move through school,” she said. “There’s always a need for nursing staff. That’s a 24/7 operation.”

The company also provides opportunities for high school students; more than 90 percent of the wait staff at RiverMead’s dining rooms are students at ConVal or Mascenic high schools.

“That’s a great arrangement for both our residents and the students,” James said. “I think it’s a real eye-opener for a young adult, to have the opportunity to meet and talk with older people.”

“The residents just appreciate the kids so much,” Eaton said.

Working on the wait staff is also a good introduction to the work environment, James said.

“We have high standards and high expectations. They have lots of supervision and training, and it’s safe, clean and friendly.”

Students have also participated in a culinary internship program, working with RiverMead’s chefs, and students in the LNA program at the Region 14 Applied Technology Center, based at ConVal High School, visit three times a year for hands-on experience working with RiverMead’s nursing staff.

RiverMead also supports a number of intergenerational programs that link students with residents.

“There’s a wealth of knowledge in a community like this, and people here are eager to share,” James said.

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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