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Aged care – setting a new standard

Net Zero Carbon By Willow Aliento, Corporate Journalist – 26 April 2023

Nurse gently holding the hand of an elderly woman.


Willow wearing pink framed glasses and a white patterned shirt with foliage in the background

Willow Aliento

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Dave Collins in suit in a park with trees, a path and wall in the background

David Collins

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With outcomes from the Aged Care Royal Commission now on the policy drawing board, a recent Queensland development sets a precedent for improving quality of life for elderly Australians, starting from the ground up.

Rockpool Carseldine is Australia’s first 5 Star Green Star (Design & As Built), all-electric residential aged care facility. Located within the 5 Star Green Star Communities Carseldine Urban Village being developed by state government agency, Economic Development Queensland (EDQ), the $43 million facility opened to its first residents in August 2022.

One of EDQ’s stipulations for Carseldine Village is that all projects must achieve a 5 Star Green Star rating from the Green Building Council of Australia. The village also aims for net zero emissions and all-electric buildings without mains gas connection.

For aged care, with its 24/7 energy demand for space heating and cooling, significant hot water consumption for laundry and personal hygiene and a tradition of gas-burning kitchens for on-site catering, this is a major leap forward from business-as-usual gas heating and gas cooktops.

How design, delivery and developer learned together

Designed by GJG Architects and delivered under an Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) contract by McNab, owner, developer and operator Rockpool worked closely with Cundall on the detail for delivering on the high aspirations.

Cundall Director, David Collins, says having his own grandparents moving into end-of-life care at the time he was working on the project gave an added dimension to his work on Carseldine.

“I was impressed by how open Rockpool were to things – they were willing to adopt anything sensible…I think part of the reason there have been so many issues in the sector is many operators are focusing too much on the profit line, not the people.”

Rockpool chief executive officer, Melissa Argent, says the project aimed to “break down every barrier of what aged care is.”

The facility is co-located next to a childcare centre and a kindergarten, giving residents the opportunity to be part of an inter-generational social life. The site overlooks a sportsground and nature reserve, offering green outlooks from every room, while an on-site café - open to the sports fields - connects residents to the public on a day-to-day basis.

An electric eight-seater buggy has also been procured to take residents into a nearby village centre with its cafes and cinema, and for trips into the bush.

“People come here, and they get their lives back. We have people who are now walking again and out and about after being previously housebound.”

Melissa Argent, Rockpool CEO

The focus is on vitality, wellness and re-enablement, with Zumba classes, Pilates equipment and health practitioners including doctors, nurses and allied health consulting spaces on-site. Resident accommodation is grouped into communities of not more than 30 beds, to enable close relationships to form.

“The 5 Star Green Star was a real learning curve for the entire team, as it had never been done in aged care before. It is almost like we have been telling our team and the residents what it is and means,” Argent says.

The feedback from new residents and their families on the result has been “sensational”. The learning and experience are also already being applied to the two new aged care developments Rockpool has underway at Pelican Waters and Oxley.

“We will be doing everything the same way we have done it here,” Argent says.

In an industry that often has challenges recruiting and retaining staff, the green credentials are having the opposite effect for Rockpool.

“I have been getting letters from people saying they want to come and join our team because they care about the environment and want to work somewhere that has that commitment.”

The gas-free kitchen was initially greeted with scepticism by their chef, who had always worked in kitchens with gas-burning cooktops.

“But now he’s a convert and says he can’t imagine ever going back to having gas in the kitchen.”

Technology for greener aged care

The plant and equipment specified for the project included VRF systems for heating, ventilation and air conditioning and electric heat pump hot water units. A 99kw solar PV system adorns the rooftop, rainwater harvesting was installed for re-use in amenities flushing and landscape watering, and EV charging is installed for carparking.

A materials impact assessment was undertaken and low carbon materials including certified timber prioritised. The waste reduction strategy applied to design, delivery and will be continued into operations.

A smart building infrastructure is integrated to support operational efficiency and to deliver real-time data to verify performance. Argent says the analytics will also be used to identify peak load periods – such as when the laundry is operating – so they can be aligned with when the solar PV is producing maximum electricity.

The Soft Landings framework was used to smooth delivery, handover and any post-occupancy fine tuning. This gained the development additional points in the Green Star Innovation credits.

“The opportunity for an all-electric system was thrown into the mix as an opportunity to achieve two points in the Green Star rating tool – and the true positive impact was quickly uncovered and the initiative enthusiastically embraced,” David Collins says.

This is the future consumers want

For Argent, the development also signals a response to consumer needs and wants. She points out that people currently in their 40s and 50s who have strong ideas about sustainability will expect the aged care they enter later in their lives to be exactly what Carseldine is right now.

“We are setting up a home for the future.”

Argent also has a commitment sharing the knowledge and experience the team has gained. That has included presenting with Collins at a GBCA Green Building Day in Brisbane, and she is regularly on-site with other developers in the Carseldine Urban Village explaining how they can deliver on Green Star requirements and what the commitment entails.

“The perspective of the board is the long-term return on investment makes the upfront investment in sustainability a wise one”

Melissa Argent, Rockpool CEO

Rockpool’s board has played an instrumental role.

Argent explains they have strong business acumen and expertise including accountancy, clinical care, engineering and construction. The perspective of her board is the long-term return on investment makes the upfront investment in sustainability a wise one.

That said, there are immediate balance sheet wins such as the lack of gas meaning there is one less (significant) supplier invoice compared to a conventional facility.

This article was originally published in The Fifth Estate's wonderful Extreme Green Buildings eBook