Retirement Communities for the PhD Set ; the Soon-to-Open Academy Village Points out How More Seniors Areputting Emphasis on Continuing Education

Article excerpt

During his lifetime in academia, Henry Koffler saw countless bright minds pushed into retirement with a lot left to offer.

Wouldn't it be smarter, Dr. Koffler reasoned, to bring them into a single community where their collective wisdom could still be put to good use?

His notion took a big step towards reality recently with groundbreaking on The Academy Village, a $70 million, 168-acre development in the mountain foothills of Tucson's east side.

It is part of a retirement trend that sets itself apart from shuffleboard courts and golf courses. Experts have known for some time that it's important for the elderly to keep physically active, but they are increasingly coming to see mental activity as equally important. As a result, a growing number of retirement communities are putting a greater focus on continuing education.

"There's much more of an emphasis on fostering an environment that allows people to continue learning and growing and experiencing for as long as possible," says David Schless, executive director of the American Seniors Housing Association in Washington. "That's a totally different mind-set than we've seen in this country."

Toward that end, the 264-home Academy Village will feature a library, computer facilities, and classrooms, and provide residents with lectures and seminars on everything from humanities to international economics. They will be encouraged to volunteer their time to area schools, to research programs at the nearby University of Arizona, or help out wherever else they're needed.

In addition, the village will provide continuous on-site health care, with graduated levels of assistance for people who need it.

But being a part of this community doesn't come cheap: Single- family homes start at $190,000, with more elaborate models topping $340,000. And membership in the Arizona Senior Academy is mandatory, with an initial fee of $1,000 and monthly dues of as much as $600.

But the high price tags attached to this community, and an initial marketing strategy that focused on university hubs such as Boston, New York, and San Francisco, drew charges that the village would become an elitist bastion for well-heeled intellectuals.

While geared to people of similar interests, Koffler stresses that the community is open to anyone 55 or older who can afford it. "We've tried to clarify that we're not trying to exclude anybody," he says. Volunteerism remains a critical part of his vision. "We're not assembling people simply to serve themselves. …