Monday, March 27, 2017

Last Installment about Great Oak Cohousing: Community Meetings and Common House


Frequency: Great Oak used to have a community business meeting twice a month. Then they decided to have only one of these two meetings focused on community business, and to devote the other one (called "alternative meeting") to other things: teaching a craft, show and tell, fun activities, or if needed, planning for something that has come up quickly.

Facilitation:  Good facilitation is the most important factor for good meetings. The whole Great Oak community has been trained in facilitation techniques. Each meeting is led by two co-facilitators. Not only does this help during the meetings, but there is also a half hour of de-briefing for the facilitators after each meeting. With so many people being trained to facilitate, there is a large pool to draw from. Having co-facilitators means there is a wider range of skills represented, there is someone to take over if one facilitator has to leave early or arrive late, or when one facilitator is presenting an item.


  1. Introductions of new people or guests 
  2. Welcome and Ice-Breaker
  3. Agenda Review
  4. 2-3 agenda items
  5. Announcements
  6. Evaluation (by group) of meeting
Committee Reports: Great Oak does not include committee reports in their all-member meetings. Committees meet once or twice a month. Meeting minutes are taken at each meeting and are sent by email to all members.

Decisions: Decisions are made by consensus. 


After the relatively large Common House in their original design, Great Oak Cohousing built a smaller common house because of the economic pressure of financing the larger building. Even so, it meets their needs. They  have one guest room, 3 offices (for members' professional use), a children's room, multi-use room, laundry, media room, workout room, kitchen and dining room. 

Great Oak has been in existence for 14 years, and the changeover has been slight. Currently 2/3 of their population are original members.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Installment #2 on Great Oak Cohousing: Their Work Program

The members and prospective members of Prairie Hill Cohousing have been curious about how other cohousing communities get their work done. We're all assuming that we will cooperate in many ways to make our community run well. And we're also assuming that there will be some things that we just hire out.

  How this will all develop is a bit beyond our imaginations right now, since we are not yet living at Prairie Hill (though some of us go to watch the construction so often that we might almost be residents!). So when I interviewed Sarah Ross last month about Great Oak Community, the work program was one of my biggest interests. Here's what Sarah told me:

At Great Oak, members are expected to put in 5-10 hours of community work a month. Rather than closely tracking whether this in fact happens, they have an honor system, trusting that members will pitch in to help as much as they can. If someone is sick or under stress, for example, the work from that person may drop down for awhile. And others fill in. It is interesting that on our recent field trip to Arboretum Cohousing in Madison, we found that they had a similar system. They recommend that members do at least 4 hours of community work per month, but they don't monitor this. As it turns out, some people end up doing relatively little and others do a lot. This may not be ideal, but they have decided that it works OK and is less stressful than trying to enforce hour commitments. It's like life in general. There are always differences is what people can do at a certain time. And if the community is healthy, with good communication and a caring atmosphere, members can trust each other to do what they can manage.

At Great Oak, interests and skills are taken into account when assigning jobs. Members take a computer survey to identify these. Then this survey is used to set up the community-wide work schedule. In the beginning, there was some tension around accountability and fairness, but over time that dropped away. New job assignments are done every 4 months. Some jobs are seasonal and others are year-round. Here are some examples of tasks assigned to members at Great Oak:

  • bookkeeping
  • check writing and depositing
  • billing of common meals to members
  • reimbursement to cooks
  • childcare during community meeting
  • taking minutes at community meeting
  • facilitating community meeting
  • snow removal
  • landscaping
When we Prairie Hill folks talk about what kinds of things will be on our own list, we assume that cooking and clean-up will be among those tasks, as well as taking care of the two guest rooms, group work days on outdoor landscaping tasks or indoor cleaning. And once we begin to live at Prairie Hill, undoubtedly we'll discover other tasks that need to be included. All in all, though, many cohousers say that they end up spending less on these household tasks in cohousing than they did in a private home. So we're not worried, and actually are looking forward to working together on things we once did on our own.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Benefits of an Infill Development - More Progress on Prairie Hill

From the beginning of our project, I heard the phrase "infill development" used in reference to our prospective community at Prairie Hill. It made me think of using dirt to fill a hole, and though I was wrong about the dirt, I now realize that in a way we ARE filling in a hole, a hole in the network of housing and other buildings in the city. Until recently, the 8 acres we bought several years ago were used for farming, even though they are surrounded by housing neighborhoods. Our development of this property for more housing is good for the city because it is not contributing to urban sprawl, something that cannot be sustained indefinitely. Being an infill development is also good for us, the future occupants. For we have an easy connection to electricity, phone, sewer, water, and all those convenient amenities. Instead of bringing these services for miles to a rural setting, they are all right at our doorstep. See the pictures below of yesterday's work, digging down to the old (close to 100 years old) sewer access and replacing it with new pipes that should last a long time!

One friendly worker told me that they estimated the old line was put in around 1930 and certainly it looked a little worse for wear (see below).

On Tuesday, the crew got the new piping covered on the east side of Miller Avenue (below).

And then they started digging a long trench on the west side of the road (Prairie Hill land). The road has been closed for the duration of this sewer work.

 Here's a close-up shot of the huge shovel as it digs deeply right along our eastern perimeter.

Each day brings new progress. We make sure we stay out of the way of these hard-working men. But we can't help but keep watch as changes take place!