One of the Washington area's most modern apartment houses, designed especially for elderly, handicapped and disabled citizens, is officially opening this week in Alexandria. The $5 million, 11-story building, the city's first such high-rise, is at the corner of Wythe and Royal streets, near Old Town.

The apartment complex will eventually house about 250 people in fully equipped efficiency and one-bedroom apartments, according to Harland Heumann, deputy executive director of the Alexandria Redevelopment and [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Authority.

[WORD ILLEGIBLE] residents, emergency call buzzers have been installed in bathrooms and sleeping areas: latches replace knobs to facilitate opening and closing doors. A buzzer in the elevator sounds as each floor is passed, so blind residents know when their stop is reached. Doors are wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, and handrails are located on each side of every hallway. Most floors are carpeted, and the kitchen floors are covered in non-skid tiles.

"This building has been my dream since 1965. We think it's one of the finest buildings around," Heumann said.

Alexandria residents who are at least 62 years old, or who are handicapped or disabled, and whose incomes are no more than $9,000 for one person, or $10,300 for a couple, are eligible-to apply for an apartment, he said.

The rents for the 60 efficiency apartments and 100 one-bedroom apartments are based on a sliding scale equal to 25 percent of the individual's or couple's adjusted gross income. Rents are expected to range from $23 a month for an efficiency to $106 for the larger unit, he said.

The L-shaped structure also includes a library, two crafts rooms, a community meeting room and a clinic staff periodically by a visiting nurse.

Residents will come and go as they choose and will prepare all their meals in their own kitchens, which are equipped with exhaust hoods over gas stoves.

One of the most innovative features of the apartments is the emergency call system, which Heumann said, "We were told we wouldn't be able to afford, but we did it."

The system is activated by a plastic string that a tenant can pull if he or [WORD ILLEGIBLE] himself becoming ill. "Once pulled, a buzzer and a red light go off outside the apartment, and the front door is automatically unlocked, so someone can come in," he said.

The emergency system is particularly helpful to residents because the building is an apartment building, and not a hospital or rest home with round-the-clock staffs.

Tenants have been moving into complex for the last several weeks.

"I've always wanted a place of my own. I love it here," said Viola Mutchler, 69, who pays $43 rent for an efficiency in the building. Mutchler, who has pictures of her family on the shelf space in the living area, said that when she wants to close off her sleeping area, she simply moves a sliding partition across the room.

There are water sprinkler heads and smoke detectors throughout each apartment, and any emergency can be monitored from an electronic panel in the lobby, according to Heumann.

Ruby Martin, 84, lived at another city-run residence for the elderly for 12 years before moving into her $78 per month one-bedroom apartment, which, like all the others, has its own air-conditioning unit.

Robert and Rebecca Hughes moved into their $83 per month one-bedroom apartment on Mr. Hughes' 77th birthday. "I wasn't sure I wanted to move here" from another city structure, "but now I like it just fine," he said.

The city of Alexandria currently houses 1,017 families in eight projects throughout the city, including more than 250 elderly people, he said. The high-rise apartment building is the city's ninth project. As elderly people are moved out of the low-rise projects and into the new building, those units will be turned over to nonelderly residents, he said.