Since 2006, more than 1,200 severely injured servicemen and women have found refuge at a one-of-a-kind institution in central Alabama that offers them a place to relax, rehabilitate, and regain the physical and emotional strength needed to carry on with their lives. Through a comprehensive regimen of fitness, recreation, and transitional services, the Lakeshore Foundation’s Lima Foxtrot program brings new hope to veterans facing life-changing debilitating injuries.
Veterans have come from 38 states and two territories to learn how to adapt to and even thrive with their new physical challenges. Therapeutic programs focus on the restorative benefits of individual and group sports such as basketball, cycling, rock climbing, tennis, and even waterskiing.
“Sports and recreation can be a positive way of rebuilding a life, of reconnecting with family and friends, of gaining skills, and, ultimately, gaining confidence,” explains Lakeshore Foundation president Jeff Underwood.
Until recently, Lima Foxtrot participants were lodged in dormitory-style housing, which meant they had to leave their extended families behind or put them up in a nearby motel while getting treatment. But a new 10-unit LEED-Gold family housing complex on the foundation’s campus now provides a cozy retreat for the vets and their loved ones to stay together. Most important, the privately funded $2.3 million Cottages of Lakeshore project makes it possible for family members or friends to actively participate in service members’ rehabilitation, says Underwood.
“When an individual leaves, we want him or her to have learned and participated in sports and activities alongside a family member or close friend so they can have help with that activity at home, sort of like a recreation buddy,” he says. “We’ve found there is more of a likelihood the veteran will continue with that activity.”
Composed of eight one-bedroom duplex-style studios and two freestanding three-bedroom houses, the Craftsman-style Cottages gives veterans and their families a private place to heal as well the chance to meet other families who are experiencing similar physical, mental, and emotional issues. To create a sense of community, the design team sited the dwellings around a central common area and dotted the 1.5-acre grounds with gathering places for socializing or solitude such as an arbor with a fireplace, a fountain area, and a children’s playground. “It’s just a really serene, peaceful place to be, almost resort-like,” says project architect Louis Nequette.
The typical length of a stay is about five days, says Underwood, but visits often extend beyond that. Transportation to Alabama, treatment, and lodging for veterans and family are provided free of charge by the foundation. Vets arrive with a range of challenges including blindness, limb loss, and spinal cord injuries, so all units are one level and are fully handicap accessible, with extra-wide doorways, wheelchair-height countertops, and grab bars and roll-in showers in the bathrooms.
Project planners kept overall costs low—about $78 per square foot—and achieved LEED certification without any whiz-bang technologies, verifier Joe Cooper says. For starters, they relied on superior framing, a tight building envelope, and meticulous air sealing for a HERS rating of 60.
“Inexpensive items like caulk, spray foam, and mastic go a long way in improving energy efficiency,” he says.
For heating and cooling—both equally important in this region, says Cooper—LG high-efficiency mini-split heat pumps were a logical choice. They negated the need for ductwork, and their built-in programmable thermostats allow for efficient zoned operation.
Because they had to balance the need for common outdoor spaces with density considerations on a small lot, the project team had few options for the Cottages’ orientation. To control heat gain, Nequette speced deep roof overhangs and low-E windows with argon gas. Small trees also were strategically placed in order to eventually offer some shade, but not too much, says Cooper. “It’s surprising that in our climate we have roughly equal heating and cooling degree days,” he says.
Participants and their families are amazed at the level of comfort and sustainability achieved by the project. “The vets get a real sense of pride in seeing that not only did somebody care enough to build a facility for the injured and their families, but, on top of that, they made sure that it meets the highest standard of energy efficiency and environmental design—it’s an amazing sort of reaction,” says Underwood.
Wounded warriors leave Lakeshore with a renewed sense of hope, he says, and family members—especially spouses—enjoy some much-needed pampering, too. One recent visitor sent Underwood a text about how he and his wife had grown closer during their stay. “Thanks for saving my marriage,” it read.