Columbia Falls Assisted Living Center Breaks Ground

By Beacon Staff

Josh Burlage saw an unfulfilled need in Columbia Falls when he moved here last August, one that would eventually change his career plans.

The career shift comes after Burlage, 32, watched his grandfather succumb to Parkinson’s in a nursing home in Wisconsin a year ago. And the experience sparked an interest in nursing home alternatives.

He said he remembered feeling that his grandfather deserved better care than he received. Though Burlage said most nursing homes do a good job, the personal care in some can be found lacking. “Sometimes they are understaffed,” Burlage said.

So instead of focusing on landscaping business, Burlage and his wife Jessi decided to build a new assisted living center in the city, called Bee Hive Homes.

The new buildings would be centered on the idea of a community environment for the clients and a familiar, dedicated staff, Burlage said.

The project came into fruition last week as the new development, which should open its doors in the spring, broke ground at its new location northeast of Columbia Falls Jr. High School.

The lot is located near Veterans Drive and 13th Street, on land purchased from School District 6. The first phase of the project will be a 13-unit assisted living building that should feel like a home, Burlage said. The next phase should include another 13-unit home and a 19- to 20-room memory care and dementia unit, Burlage said.

“I’m just tickled with the location, to have some affiliation with the schools and our home,” Burlage said.

Michael Nicosia, school superintendent, said the assisted living center is a good fit for the land near the schools, which he said would not have been sold for residential houses.

“It was a good use for a small piece of land that we really would have not used,” Nicosia said. “The (Board of Trustees) really felt comfortable with the community contribution a facility like this would provide.”

Columbia Falls City Manager Bill Shaw said he is optimistic about the project and has received positive feedback from the public.

“I think anytime we get that kind of activity here, the public’s generally very supportive,” Shaw said. “Everybody’s pretty well aware we’re short on that kind of assistance to our community.”

Shaw noted that other than the Montana Veteran’s nursing home, there are not many assisted living resources for the aging population in Columbia Falls.

During the planning process, Shaw said one neighbor was upset because of the buildings’ height. The planning board and the city council agreed to shift the buildings to accommodate the neighbor’s view, Shaw said.

“I think everyone was pretty supportive and getting it done,” Shaw said. “The school, I think, is pretty pleased to see something come along that is a single tenant.”

The plans were also shifted at the request of School District 6, because they felt the center was placed too close to the running track, Nicosia said.

Bee Hive Homes is a national franchise of assisted living facilities. The Web site says the idea behind the homes is to create a clean, comfortable, affordable living space for the elderly when they reach the point in life that they need residential care. There are other Bee Hive Homes in Montana, located in Missoula, Choteau, Great Falls and Conrad.

Burlage said he chose Bee Hive Homes because the atmosphere would be close-knit with a small staff and home-like feel for the residences where “everyone knows everyone,” instead of a lonely feeling that can sometimes come with a nursing home.

The community has already shown interest in the facility, Burlage said. Though applications for the units are not yet available, he said he hopes to begin that process next month, once the dust of breaking ground has settled.

“We’re just excited to be here and excited to have a place for the seniors to get the assistance they need,” Burlage said.

For more information on the project or questions about Bee Hive Homes, call Josh Burlage at 1-563-543-8038 or visit the web site, www.beehivehomes.com