Seniors to live in 'research cottages' in McKeesport

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Sometime this summer, two low-income elderly people will move into a special new home in McKeesport.

By doing so, they also set in motion a quality-of-life research project that aims to show the promise technology may hold for the hopes of independent living by seniors, disabled veterans and others who are physically and mentally disabled.

Construction of the 867-square-foot, two-bedroom house symbolically got under way two weeks ago when Blueroof Technologies, a McKeesport nonprofit, broke ground for its first "Blueroof Research Cottage." The hope is to develop 20 such cottages in a "cluster community" in the McKeesport Independence Zone, a 10-acre development in the city's 3rd Ward, stretching from Walnut and Jenny Lind streets to Penny Street and Wigham Avenue.

The Blueroof Research Cottage will enable older individuals and those with physical disabilities to take part in the Quality of Life Technology research program by Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh and funded by the National Science Foundation. The Bosch Research and Technology Center North America, with offices in Pittsburgh, Cambridge, Mass., and Palo Alto, Calif., also is involved.

Data generated will be used to provide direction and proof of the importance of the technology and how it can be used to reduce care costs.

Unlike other smart-house research studies, the McKeesport model is believed to be the only one in which people are actually living in them, said Bob Walters, technology director for Blueroof.

"Georgia Tech, Duke and Florida State have individual homes, but people aren't living in them," Mr. Walters said. "We've specifically called them 'research cottages' because we want people to live in them. They're part of the research team as we go along.

"This is the only [project] in the country doing this, maybe the world. England has been doing some work, but we don't see a focus community like we're trying to do here."

The certified "green" home will be energy-efficient, environmentally friendly and low- maintenance, equipped with assistive and innovative technology and built-in safety and security features.

Using wireless connections, medical monitoring and activities of daily living data will be collected and available from the Internet via a virtual private network.

"The first area is security of the house, and we'll monitor all the windows and doors, for example, to see how often they open up the door," Mr. Walters said. "We'll also be looking at how often they use the refrigerator, how often they cook, how often they use the shower.

"The third area will be monitoring the house itself for energy usage. We really want to be able to analyze how much money it saves from a normal home."

Mr. Walters said Blueroof has a two-phase approach to build more cottages -- approaching universities and hospital systems to fund construction of a few more research homes this year and then seeking foundation funding for the remainder of the cluster community. Each home, including site acquisition, costs between $100,000 and $150,000, he said.

"We hope to move very quickly with these," he said. "Once we get the support, we want to go and really do the whole thing in one big swoop with one big grant."


Michael A. Fuoco can be reached at mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.


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