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.”
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.”