Benchmark at Alexandria, rising tall and sleek, up and running and ready for move-ins. Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty

Benchmark Makes its Virginia Debut

ALEXANDRIA, VA – There’s a new game in town. A new senior living facility, that is, to add to the landscape of facilities in Alexandria that offer senior living. Rising like a phoenix on Alexandria’s West End, the tall sleek new building is the latest addition to a vibrant development that features upscale apartment buildings, Silver Diner, Harris Teeter, eateries, shops and a gym on the corner of Beauregard and King Streets. Benchmark makes its debut in Virginia with the arrival of this newest senior living property in Alexandria. It was seven and a half years in the making.

Benchmark executives and city leaders gathered in the expansive lobby of the brand-new facility for the Grand Opening Thursday May 2. When you walk in the door, the first thing that hits you is that this doesn’t look like a typical older adult setting. The large open airy space is elegantly furnished with a long wall of window that bathes the space in sunlight. Doug Buttner nodded when Zebra asked him about the upscale look.

Buttner is senior executive director of Benchmark at Alexandria. “Every single tour we complete, they consistently say, this does not look like senior living, it looks like a very posh boutique hotel. We hear that every single time.”

Attractive food stations were set up all over the first floor and guests wandered from an elaborate charcuterie table to made-to-order hot dishes to a table laden with exquisitely crafted pastries. The excitement was palpable. There was something different about this new player in the senior services industry.

“Benchmark is unique in a number of things,” Buttner told Zebra during a tour of the center. “We truly believe in the power of human connections and everything that we do is based on uplifting, leading residents where they are, and continuing to provide them with the best life that they have.”
Buttner explained that another thing that sets Benchmark apart is the way they do staffing. “We don’t staff by ratios like other facilities, meaning some will have one caregiver per ten residents. We have a very sophisticated model, we actually have figured out how long it takes to perform all the pieces of care that we do, all the activities of daily living, and then we develop our different levels and assess the resident.”
And now it was time for the official welcome. Tom Grape, Benchmark founder and CEO, took to the podium to herald Benchmark’s arrival in Alexandria. Grape recalled that time when he lived in Old Town Alexandria. “So for me, this is a bit of a homecoming.”
He lauded the company, based in Waltham, Massachusetts, saying the Boston Globe named Benchmark Senior Living a Top Place to Work for 16 straight years. “And they’ve only been doing this ranking for sixteen years!” Grape jested to laughter from the crowd. “We take great pride in caring for our residents and our families. Our purpose is to transform lives through human connection.”

Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson pointed out that Benchmark stands on a historic landmark. “Many of you will remember that Five Guys stood here not so long ago,” he quipped, “along with Jefferson Memorial Hospital. It was a site that we’ve been long working on, trying to figure out the future of redevelopment here.”

The mayor looked back on his fourteen years of City Council, and recounted earlier iterations of what the city should do with this site.

“It’s taken a little bit to get here but we are happy to see this final building block come into place and this is what we envisioned here. Mixed use, mixed income on the same location in our community.”

The mayor noted the proximity to transit and a vision to bring the West End Transitway to Beauregard Street. “As someone who has worked through housing arrangements for seniors in my own family, I understand those challenges. We have a supply challenge. Anything we can do to increase the amount of supply in our community is going to be helpful.”

All the speakers emphasized the strategic location of this new senior living center. Zebra caught up with Senior Services of Alexandria Executive Director Mary Lee Anderson during the reception.

It’s a great location on the West End, right across the street from Harris Teeter,” Anderson noted. “They also have a relationship with VHC Health just up the block, to provide medical support. I think they’ve been very strategic about their location.”

Edward and Cynthia Jackson hold the distinction of being the very first residents to move in. Mr. Jackson has lived in Alexandria for 50 years and married for 42. The couple moved to Benchmark from another senior facility on April 1. Jackson could barely contain his exuberance. “If there are levels of living, I would say this is a five-star living experience,” he beamed. 

Zebra asked Jackson if Benchmark felt like living in a hotel. “No, not a hotel. More of a dreamland.” Edwards praised the Benchmark leadership for rolling out the welcome mat.

“The first week was overwhelming because we were the only ones here and they wanted to know what you want to eat, do you need anything, somebody was always around to help us, and it made a big difference in the living. Medical care is above normal for this area. I really enjoy living here!”

Mary Lee Anderson noted the chic surroundings and well-appointed apartments.

“It’s luxury senior living. There are a lot of older adults in Alexandria who fortunately have saved their money and are ready to move out of their houses and all the maintenance that’s involved with that. And this gives them a really viable alternative that provides them with activities, support services, and a community that they can feel part of and still be active in Alexandria. That’s really important for aging well.”

Benchmark at Alexandria offers assisted living and memory care. The center contains 115 apartments, including 26 specifically designed for residents with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Nationwide, Benchmark houses 6700 residents.

Benchmark Alexandria has been open for just over a month and only ten percent of the units are occupied. Buttner is confident that will soar. “We pretty much confirmed four move-ins today alone. It’s going to fill up quickly, the more people that see it, the more people realize that their loved one can live here, they’re not out of the way from things, they can walk to the grocery store, there are doctors here, there’s the Montessori school which we partnered with for inter-generational programming. There are so many elements here that a lot of people don’t have. They’re right in the development, in their backyard.”

Buttner added, “Something else that makes Benchmark different is that we hire for heart and train for success.”

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