Category: Building Profile
In April of 2016, GEF Seniors Housing hosted a community meeting with members of Elmwood and the surrounding neighbourhoods. The meeting was to discuss a new proposal for a seniors housing building on the vacant lot behind the Meadowlark Place lodge. GEF Seniors Housing’s Director of Facility Management Doug Kitlar explains that this initial meeting was expected to have around 30 people attend and share a few ideas for what the building should look like and how to integrate it into the neighbourhood. By the time discussions began, more than 100 community members were in attendance.
“We were still setting up tables and trying to find more coffee by the time [GEF Seniors Housing CEO] Raymond [Swonek] began the introduction for the discussion,” says Kitlar with a laugh. “We’re really blown away by how invested this community is in seeing some new affordable seniors housing be added to the area.”
Community consultations are always unpredictable and typically have a few naysayers who come in ready to oppose any new developments, Kitlar points out. The meeting in Elmwood saw nothing but positive feedback and constructive ideas on how to best integrate the building onto what’s typically a busy street corner at 87 Avenue and 159 Street on Edmonton’s west end. With interest from the community being so high for this proposed building, Kitlar explains that the pressure is on to come back to the next community meeting with a solid building plan that the people will want to stay invested in.
“The building we want to add to this community really needs to add a lot of value to this area,” says Kitlar. “This is an area that’s seeing some big spikes in its senior population and we need to deliver a building that’s going to serve the needs for this area.”
Though the process for a new building project can come off as slow, a lot has progressed for Elmwood Terrace over the past year. The City of Edmonton re-zoned the land to accommodate a five or six story building. A study into the need for the building is required by the Province of Alberta and part of this study will include architectural designs for the space. More than 20 different architectural firms have expressed interest in working on the design of the building with GEF Seniors Housing.
Once the architect for the study is selected, a budget for the building will be set and brought to the Province of Alberta for its support. After the budget is approved and the Province dedicates its funds to the project, the rest of the team will be selected, including the general contractor. Kitlar explains that the team is looking to implement an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) approach to the project, much like how Sakaw Terrace is being built.
“In short, IPDs see all project partners, from the architects to the contractors, having some financial stake in the game,” says Kitlar. “As the project progresses, if any setbacks come about, the partners put their profits at risk. This then motivates the partners to work more collaboratively to find creative solutions for any setbacks without compromising the quality of the building.”
With such strong interest in a new affordable seniors housing building in Edmonton’s west end, Kitlar knows the demand will only go up as time moves forward. He explains that any new capital building project is a long process. It’s those long processes that ensure GEF Seniors Housing will only open the best quality buildings to the seniors looking for a new home.
“If we’re looking at a building like Sakaw Terrace, for example, plans for that project began back in 2012,” says Kitlar. “We just broke ground on it in late 2016 and the building won’t be finished until 2018. It might seem like an incredibly long time for something as pressing as a growing seniors population who need affordable housing options. What we’re creating is a building that will be home for a lot of people. We don’t want to rush any of this. We want it so that when people move in, they know they’re in a safe and secure place that’s built to the highest standards. Elmwood Terrace will be no different.”
Sakaw Terrace as an idea was first conceived by Raymond Swonek when the City of Edmonton offered GEF Seniors Housing a surplus school site in the Mill Woods area. After seeing the plot of land being offered for a new affordable seniors housing development, he immediately pictured a building unlike anything GEF had ever attempted before.
“Mill Woods was really lacking affordable seniors housing,” says Swonek. “There was a huge need for lodge rooms and apartments catered to seniors with a low- to moderate-income. With there being such a huge need in this neighbourhood, I knew I had to go big – bigger than anything we had ever built before.”
Ambitions ran high for Sakaw Terrace. As the project development team began fleshing out the details that would make up this new seniors complex, Swonek started seeing something even better than he initially imagined. The designers and architects made space for 70 lodge rooms and 88 apartments, two outdoor courtyards, a communal greenhouse, a theatre room, a salon, and underground and above ground parking. Swonek explains that deciding what to include in this new building wasn’t a decision solely made by any one group.
“For any new building project, we always go out to the community and make sure they’re involved with as much of the process as they want to be,” says Swonek. “The community talked a lot about how much they like their green space, so between the courtyards and the greenhouse, we made sure to include as much green space as we possibly could.”
GEF began appearing at farmer’s markets and other community events to help keep up the momentum for Sakaw Terrace, only to be met by lines of people hoping to get on the waiting list early. With excitement running high in the Mill Woods community for Sakaw Terrace, the project team knew it needed to deliver something special and started looking to its environmental impact assessments for more inspiration.
“We decided to own more of the environmental stewardship around a project like [Sakaw Terrace],” Swonek says. “It’s important that what we build is sustainable and that we reduce our carbon footprint without compromising on our principle to provide great housing options for seniors.”
The team looked at sustainability in two ways, with the first being environmental. Sakaw Terrace was built with a combined heat and power unity (CHP), which better uses natural gas utilities by using the power and hear generated more efficiently. Estimates show that the CHP will reduce carbon gas emissions by 530 tons a year.
The other side of Sakaw Terrace’s sustainability is the financial side, which is helped by the CHP offering a savings of around $80,000 that GEF can reallocate to operations and services for seniors. But Swonek explains that they wanted to take financial sustainability a step further with a housing model he typically only sees in Europe.
“Sakaw Terrace is the first building in Alberta to offer a mixed-income model for housing in Western Canada,” Swonek says. “Thirty per cent of the suites in Sakaw Terrace are going to be offered to any senior, regardless of income, at a market value. We can then use the profits from the market value suites to keep funding the operations at Sakaw Terrace, making it a completely self-sustaining building.”
Though the financial side of sustainability is appealing to GEF Seniors Housing (especially being a not-for-profit), Swonek’s more proud of the communal aspects of these innovations.
“What our efforts amount to is making Sakaw Terrace more accessible to the 20,000 seniors currently living in the Mill Woods area,” Swonek says. “As people age, they want to stay in their communities. They want to be close to their families, friends, and the services they’re comfortable with. At the end of the day, the people have to come first. This is going to be someone’s home, and that needs to stay front of mind before anything else.”
Linda Ensley remembers when she encountered a senior who was just weeks away from living in his car. His monthly income was only around a couple of hundred dollars and he could no longer afford to pay rent, let alone pay rent while affording food and all the other aspects that make for a good quality of life. Ensley explains that once she was put into contact with this senior through the work she does with the Strathcona Place Seniors Centre, she was able to start the right kinds of conversations to help this person work out his situation.
“Through the systems we set up, we put him in contact with our year-round tax clinic and helped him find seniors benefits he didn’t know about,” explains Ensley, whose work as Strathcona Place Seniors Centre’s Executive Director has her and her team working with hundreds of seniors every day, ensuring that they have everything they need to continue living comfortably as their situations change. “After we worked out his finances, we got in touch with GEF Seniors Housing to find him an affordable place to live. Within two weeks, we had more than tripled his income and had him ready to move into the nearby Strathcona Place seniors apartment.”
The Strathcona Place Seniors Centre’s role in the lives of the seniors living in the south-central and south-western Edmonton neighbourhood has expanded exponentially since Ensley took over as Executive Director three years ago. She explains that the social work aspect to the centre needed upgrading. Thankfully, her background working with General Electric’s Information Technology (IT) department gave her some unique insights as to where the improvements could begin.
“Before, we worked on one to two cases a month,” says Ensley. “Since implementing our new technology driven processes, we handled more than 1,800 individual cases over the past six months.”
The encrypted technology component integrated into Strathcona Place’s operations consists of two different pieces of software: MeisterTask and HipChat. The MeisterTask software was originally designed to track IT work orders for private companies, but Ensley and Assistant Executive Director Francisco Yu quickly spotted how easy it could be used for securely tracking social work cases. The HipChat software helps the staff, students, and volunteer base drive internal conversations on issues that the case workers need different perspectives to create the choices seniors need. It allows the multi-disciplinary team the chance to find, creative, and innovative solutions for complex cases by pooling their resource knowledge from different disciplines.
“Using this technology has completely streamlined our approach to the social work aspect,” says Yu. “We know technology can be intimidating so we’re making sure that any work we do with the technology while talking with a senior is as seamless as possible.”
The total range of services that Strathcona Place Seniors Centres Outreach Team offer range from financial assistance to assisting newly landed senior immigrants with language barriers and even creative arts classes such as exercise, writing and painting. Staff at Strathcona Place Seniors Centre speak a total of 12 languages including a range of Asian languages, European languages, and indigenous dialects such as Kanada. The team also has access to translators for another 17 languages through extended partnerships with other multicultural organizations.
For all the good that Strathcona Place Seniors Centre is able to offer the community, Ensley knows that the building itself needs some improvements. Being built in 1971, much of the building needs upgrades and Ensley knows a simple facelift won’t be enough. Plans to tear down the current building and rebuild it are currently underway. Most interesting is the idea of connecting the seniors centre to the nearby GEF Seniors Housing Strathcona Place apartment and finding ways to be a community hub that addresses the needs of the seniors and the community.
“The value that the tenants living at the GEF Seniors Housing building near the centre receive when they participate in its programs is tremendous,” says Manak Dhillon, GEF Seniors Housing’s Strathcona Place building manager. “Finding creative and innovative ways to bridge our two organizations and help our partnership grow makes the most sense and gives the best possible benefit to the people most important to us: the seniors we serve.”
Be it athletics, textile weaving, supporting LGBTQ+ seniors, partnering with Indigenous groups, providing intergenerational programming opportunities, or working on elder abuse education, the Strathcona Place Seniors Centre continues working to add value to the lives of seniors in Edmonton. Its partnerships with other community focused organizations, such as GEF Seniors Housing, ensures that it can reach as many seniors possible and continue working to create a better quality of life for those who need it most.
“Everything we do is to help people find better outcomes,” says Ensley. “Things are always changing and we’re working to future proof everything that we do. We’re always asking ourselves what’s the next step in further addressing the needs of seniors.”
On the afternoon of July 31, 2012, GEF Seniors Housing faced one of its worst building fires in over 50 years it has been an organization. The Canora Gardens building’s second floor caught fire after a new tenant moving in put a cardboard box on a hot stove element. One tenant lost their life in the fire due to smoke inhalation. GEF Seniors Housing’s Director of Facility Management Doug Kitlar explains that getting the call about a building fire is always unpredictable.
“It’s policy that whoever on the team is closest to the building when the fire call comes in has to go directly to the site to begin assessing the situation,” Kitlar explains. “Ed Campion, one of our project managers, made it to the site before I did. The whole drive over, I was looking over the horizon of buildings and I could see the black smoke billowing out and all I could think was that we were in trouble.”
The suite where the fire started and the suites next to it had extensive fire damage and the smoke damage all along the second floor was clearly visible. Kitlar says that while working with the adjusters, there was ample concern for the water damage to the floors below the fire and more smoke damage in the walls above the fire. Canora Gardens’ original construction had plenty of fire protection between the suites, but no smoke protection (as is the standard for modern buildings). Kitlar knew that the smoke damage went far beyond what they could see on the second floor.
“We opened up a couple of walls and we could clearly see the extent of the smoke damage,” says Kitlar. “It was a tragic situation for the whole building and the people living in it. The building was going to need a lot of work for the renovations but I knew with the right kind of renovation plan, we could turn this into an opportunity for something extremely positive.”
GEF Seniors Housing first worked to relocate the tenants from all 98 suites to other sites before beginning what started out as a $6 million renovation project. Plans were put into place to improve the fire and smoke protection, redesign the suites to better suit the needs of seniors, and even install a new sprinkler system. More challenges arose with the building project, including discovering a large amount of asbestos where parts of the sprinkler system would need to be installed and issues with the building envelope that caused major leaks including through the windows. The project quickly ballooned to $12 million.
“We were lucky to have a lot of support from the Government of Alberta throughout the whole project,” says Kitlar. “They supported a full redesign from the beginning. They knew this redesign would add another 40 years of life in this building and that was important for everyone involved.”
The Canora Gardens project has taken more than five years to complete with an opening date slated for January 2018. Kitlar points out that some rebuilds in the past have taken less time, but the Canora Gardens projects presented a few unique challenges (like the asbestos issue and the building envelope issue), which pushed the team at GEF Seniors Housing to go deeper into the building and work more to breathe new life into it.
“Once Canora Gardens is done, it will be like a whole new building,” says GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek. “I’ve been really proud of the team who not only have been rebuilding Canora Gardens but modernizing it as well.”
Throughout the Canora Gardens rebuild site, signs of bringing the building out of its original 1977 construction date and into 2017’s higher standards to residential buildings is evident all over. The building will feature better lighting, new interior finishes, improved common area spaces, a sprinkler system, and new energy efficient mechanical systems. For Kitlar, he’s proud of the mechanical and structural upgrades to the building, but there’s one facet that he’s especially excited about.
“We redesigned each of the suites so they function better for seniors,” says Kitlar. “We moved a few walls, flipped some floor plans, and were able to make the suites more conducive to the unique facets of seniors living without losing any suites. I am especially proud that we were able to keep the seniors who will live in the building so front of mind during this whole process.”
Swonek echoes Kitlar’s excitement about the redesign of the suites. His frequent visits to the sites have shown him how far along the building has come and how well this building is going to function as an independent seniors living complex once it’s completed.
“I visit the build site often because I’m a very visual person and I like to see the process being made,” says Swonek. “Canora Gardens is going to be so much of a safer building for the seniors living in it and I know it’s going to set a standard for seniors building renovation projects happening all across Edmonton.”
The Sakaw Terrace construction project reached two important milestones this week: the completion and issue of Tender Package number eight and the suspended slab concrete pour over the parkade. This is one of the first major steps to completing a building that’s going to serve a major need in the Mill Woods neighbourhood.
Included in Tender Package number eight was the window package, cladding, roofing, fall arrest system, doors, and hardware, all necessary components in this building project. The concrete slab finding its way onto the parkade means the center section foundation is nearing completion as work continues on the foundations for the building’s four main wings.
“We are pleased that the project is on schedule in spite of program and weather delays,” says Ed Campion, Project Coordinator with GEF Seniors Housing. “Putting a foundation in the ground after frost has set in can be very challenging and can also affect the design of the building’s sub-structure. Our team did an excellent job overcoming these challenges, ensuring we stayed on schedule and on budget”
Campion points out that weather is often a wild card on any building project. Extreme cold spells caused the frost to penetrate the ground and the cold temperatures also wreaked havoc on the excavation equipment.
“When temperatures hit below minus 20, it can cause serious damage to the equipment, blades and shovels break,” says Campion, explaining that heating equipment was used to keep the frost at bay in the open excavations and to protect the concrete footings and walls as they cured.
“We also dealt with a lot of snow, melt water, and rain this spring resulting in very muddy site conditions,” says Campion. “But we were able to manage the ponding water and muddy conditions by strategically digging sump pits and laying down purpose-built bamboo mats for men and equipment to move on.”
The concrete foundations for the north wings are expected to be finished by April 27, 2017. From there, the first delivery of structural steel for the core section of the building is set to arrive at the site on May 2, 2017, with follow-on deliveries continuing into the summer.
To celebrate the milestone occasion, Chandos, the lead contractor on this project, treated members of the design and construction teams to an outdoor hot dog lunch from Fat Frank’s. Thankfully for everyone, the weather participated nicely.
“This is the first nice day that we’ve had in quite a while, certainly better than the snow we were dealing with just yesterday,” says Campion with a laugh. “This is a well-deserved celebration. Everyone has done such an amazing job to get us where we are today and to help us achieve our goals tomorrow.”
If you ask Doug Kitlar what he’s most excited about with the Sakaw Terrace project, he’ll have a lot of answers. With Sakaw Terrace being GEF Seniors Housing’s most ambitious building, there was a lot of risk and innovation put into the plans. But one innovation in particular comes up more often than most and is one of the more exciting aspects of a building that Kitlar has worked with in his more than 12 years as GEF Seniors Housing’s Director of Facility Management.
“The whole Sakaw Terrace project is being built on what’s called an Integrated Project Delivery, or an IPD,” says Kitlar. “That means that [GEF Seniors Housing], our architects [at Rockliff Pierzchajlo Kroman Architects Ltd.], and our building contractor [at Chandos Construction Ltd.] all have some sort of skin in the game. For our partners, it’s their profits that are at risk being based on the design and construction efficiencies. It was through this collaborative approach that the Combined Heat and Power unit became integral to the design.”
The idea of a Combined Heat and Power unit (CHP) was brought up as a way to efficiently and cost effectively provide electricity, heat, and hot domestic water to the more than 150 suites and commercial kitchen. On the surface, its efficiencies are obvious but it’s hard to see where the excitement is rooted. As Kitlar explains, once you break down the numbers involved, the CHP becomes quite impressive.
When compared to similar buildings GEF Seniors Housing currently owns and operates, the CHP unit will not only save the foundation significant money over time, it also helps to reduce a significant amount of carbon emissions. Utilizing a CHP for Sakaw Terrace will save GEF Seniors Housing approximately $80,000 a year and will reduce carbon emissions by 530 tonnes annually. To put into comparison, the United States Environmental Protection Agency measures the average passenger vehicle as releasing about 4.7 tons of carbon annually. That’s close to 113 Ford Focuses worth of emissions reduced every year. For Kitlar, the cost savings is nice but the environmental impact is where he’s especially proud.
“It’s important to own that environmental stewardship,” says Kitlar. “Every effort to reduce carbon emissions builds up to something bigger. Anywhere I can make an extra effort for environmental responsibility, I want to take it.”
The design of the CHP involves generating electricity on site using natural gas, which also produces heat. The heat is then captured from the CHP and directed to the pre-heat for the fresh air intakes, the building’s heating boiler systems, and the domestic hot water systems for the suites. Because both electricity and heat are created from a single source of fuel, it reduces the net amount of emissions.
Carbon emissions are further reduced because the CHP eliminates what’s known as line loss. Traditional electrical systems require the power to travel through long lines to reach where power needs to be generated, which can result in losing up to 40 per cent of electrical efficiencies. By having all the power and heat at a single source, any efficiencies that would have been lost because of line loss are regained, requiring less total natural gas to generate the same amount of heat and electricity.
“I really do think that everything we decided to include in the Sakaw Terrace project is going to set a new standard for what affordable seniors housing can look like in Edmonton,” says Kitlar. “We’re trying a few new things and I know the reward is going to be an amazing building that many people will be happy to call home.”
This is a story that has been included on the Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initative blog, the November – December issue of Alberta Caregiver magazine, and in the fall 2016 edition of the Community Connections newsletter.
Kim Ruzycki remembers her first visit to Ottewell Manor. She recalls touring the building, walking through the dining room and seeing all the rooms in the building that she and her neighbours would be living in. She had spent the previous year living at Rosary Hall and many of her neighbours there were also making the switch to Ottewell Manor, so she wasn’t nervous about moving. In fact, as she settled into her new home, she was surprised by what her living conditions were like.
“We can make all of our own decisions and do things for ourselves,” Ruzycki says. “But there is a strong support system here.”
Ruzycki is one of 38 residents currently living in Otewell Manor. And like all the residents at Ottewell Manor, she’s living with conditions that would make living completely independently almost impossible. Residents at Ottewell Manor live with a range of different conditions from depression and anxiety to bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia.
Ottewell Manor was built in 1962 and was a seniors lodge for many years. In 2010, negotiations between Alberta Health Services (AHS) and the Greater Edmonton Foundation Seniors Housing (GEF Seniors Housing) began with the intention of dedicating Ottewell Manor strictly for seniors struggling with mental health conditions. In May of 2012, Ottewell Manor’s first new residents started moving in.
“None of us had any background in mental health before Ottewell Manor opened,” explains Shelley Fox, Assistant Manager with GEF Seniors Housing who spends the majority of her time overseeing the operations of Ottewell Manor. “We received some training from AHS before we opened, but we also set some clear guidelines in our agreement as to where the mental health support would be coming from.”
GEF Seniors Housing’s partnership with AHS focuses on the operations and support for its residents. Therapists, case workers, and even some homecare providers work directly with GEF Seniors Housing to ensure that everyone living in Ottewell Manor is receiving the mental health support that they need.
“AHS are the experts in mental health, we know and respect that and we wouldn’t want to try and replace that,” says Lisa Bereziuk, Manager of the larger Ottewell portfolio of buildings for GEF Seniors Housing. “What we as supportive living are doing is ensuring that the other side of that quality of life equation is being met. We’re making sure that the food we serve is of the best quality, the recreation options are things our residents are interested in, that the building is clean and well taken care of, and that the day to day of living here is the best it can possibly be.”
Like all GEF Seniors Housing supportive living sites, Ottewell Manor features a full commercial kitchen with a Red Seal chef on staff, a designated recreation coordinator setting up programs for the residents, and the freedom for the residents to choose what they want to take part in.
Both Fox and Bereziuk attribute a large part of Ottewell Manor’s success to the open communication they continue to have with their partners in AHS. With each organizations’ roles so clearly defined, there’s very rarely any disconnect between them, and that helps keep the operations in Ottewell Manor running smoothly and ensures that all the residents have a great quality of life.
“Hospital visits are considerably down for our residents, and most of the time you can’t even tell our residents are living with any sort of condition,” says Fox. “The work being done here is helping a lot with breaking the current stigma around mental health. Even within GEF Seniors Housing, new staff will be hired and not realize what Ottewell Manor does and they’ll be visibly uncomfortable about it until they actually visit Ottewell Manor and see how wrong their misconceptions were. That these are just normal people who want what anyone else would want: a good quality of life.”
What’s most important for Fox and Bereziuk every day is that the residents are happy with where they live. And they get to see their efforts help people with everything from just getting comfortable with where they’re living to helping with larger issues such as hoarding. The residents often show their appreciation for what the staff with GEF Seniors Housing does for them; some a little more vibrantly than others.
“There was one resident who became especially attached to the Ottewell portfolio’s previous manager Susan Scott and during our opening this resident actually hugged [Scott] so hard that she needed to see a chiropractor afterward,” says Bereziuk with a laugh. “But I think that resident expressed what a lot of the other residents were feeling that day and still continue to feel. And when we see our residents express that level of happiness, we know we’re doing a good job at giving them a good quality of life.”