December finish for Sweetwater
UP TO 50 WORKERS at a time are constructing Sweetwater Spectrum, a residential housing complex on Fifth Street West.
The pool has been poured, the houses have been framed and the Sweetwater Spectrum is moving full force ahead with its residential community for autistic adults, who could move in as early as December.
“We’re planning to be done with construction by the end of the year,” said Deirdre Sheerin, executive director of the nonprofit organization. “(The residents) could move in this December, but with the Christmas holiday I’m guessing they’ll wait until after the first of the year.”
Located northwest of the intersection of Fifth Street West and West Spain Street, the residential housing complex is one of the first of its kind in the country. Designed exclusively for adults living with autism, the 2.8-acre property will include four 3,250-square-foot homes, each of which will house four residents. The homes include four bedrooms, each with a private bathroom and walk-in closet; a full kitchen; a living room; a caretaker’s room or office; a guest bathroom and a terrace.
“There’s private space for each resident – privacy is very important,” Sheerin said.
The homes were also designed to address the specific environmental sensitivities common in individuals with autism. The living room has floor-to-ceiling windows for abundant natural light; each room is sound-proofed to control noise; natural, non-distracting colors will be used inside and out; and houses were designed with open floor plans to avoid cluttered sight-lines.
“It can be really fascinating when you start to get into all the sensitivities that need to be considered for the Sweetwater community,” Sheerin said. She explained that the study “Residential Options for Adults Living With Autism,” conducted in 2010 at the Arizona State University Stardust Center and School of Architecture, was the guiding document San Francisco architects Leddy Maytum Stacy used to create the space.
“But everything was designed with safety first,” Sheerin added.
The property will also house a pool and a communal room with a teaching kitchen, gym, screening room and multi-use craft room. Rachel Kohn Obut, of Lunita Farms, has signed on to oversee the large garden, greenhouse and orchard that will be planted, which residents can use for their own cooking. Sweetwater Spectrum also hopes the garden will become a source of income and social interaction for the residents, who could harvest and sell the produce to restaurants or at farmers markets.
“We’ve talked to EDK and dropped hints to the girl and the fig,” Sheerin said.
So far, Sweetwater Spectrum is reviewing around 20 applications for the 16 residential spots. Total monthly payments to live in the residential community are $3,250, including $650 for rent and $2,600 for community fees. All applicants are required to submit a plan for their care, including how often a caretaker will be required to stay with a resident, which can range from 24 hours a day to weekly check-ins.
“We’re not responsible for their care, they need to arrange for that with a regional center,” Sheerin said. “We’re basically just their landlord.”
Creating a residential community specifically for those living with autism marks a pioneering solution to a growing need. Currently, autism affects one in every 110 births in America, and is increasing at a rate of more than 14 percent annually. About 85 percent of individuals with autism are under the age of 22, leaving thousands of families to question what will happen when their children grow up. Many centers lump all residents with developmental disabilities together, making it difficult to address the specific needs of autistic adults.
“This is a really innovative thing, no one else in the country is doing what we’re doing,” Sheerin said, adding that it can be a difficult process for some families. “I can see it’s this overwhelming, daunting thing. It’s a big deal for these families to think about their child living on their own. But it’s also an aspiration they have for their children.”
With an estimated 80,000 autistic adults waiting up to 10 years for placement in residential facilities that cater to autism, many in the medical community are looking to the Sweetwater Spectrum for ideas on how to replicate similar models across the country. Both Dominican University and the University of San Francisco Medical School have plans to study the effectiveness of the Sweetwater Spectrum model once residents move in.
“We’ve gotten tons of phone calls, just tons from the autism community,” Sheerin said. “Everyone is watching to see what we do.”
The total project cost is about $10.4 million, including funds raised by private donations as well as a grant from the Eucalyptus Foundation. The building process is being overseen by Midstate Construction with assistance from the John Benward Company.
On Saturday, Nov. 10, from 3 to 5 p.m., Sweetwater Spectrum will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony, with proclamations from the mayor of Sonoma and food from Ramekins Culinary School and Event Center. The public is invited to attend.
To find out more about Sweetwater Spectrum, visit sweetwaterspectrum.org.