Applications for Sakaw Terrace are officially open. This comes on the heels of a great deal of anticipation from both the community at large and from GEF Seniors Housing. CEO Raymond Swonek explains that he’s been eager for the applications to open to the public and begin the process for seniors to be able to call Sakaw Terrace home.

“Between the phone calls we receive here at the offices every day, the engagement we see on social media, and the excitement we’ve seen at the events promoting Sakaw Terrace, we know opening these applications couldn’t have come soon enough,” says Swonek. “The Mill Woods community has wanted a building like Sakaw Terrace for a long time and we’re going to deliver on a building for seniors that’s unlike anything else in the neighbourhood.”

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GEF Seniors Housing staff will collect application forms over the next three months, compiling a list of all the qualified applicants. On May 8, 2018, a lottery draw will be held at the Mill Woods Seniors Association (second floor, 2610 Hewes Way, Edmonton) to determine who will be first to be interviewed. For previous building openings, GEF Seniors Housing has used the lottery system for applicants as a means of making sure the entire process is fair to everyone involved.

“The building has 158 suites and we’re expecting many more applications than that over the next three months,” says Swonek. “With such a huge demand for the building, we want to ensure that everyone who applies has an equal chance of being able to move in once the building opens.”

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After the applicants are chosen from the lottery, they’ll be scheduled for an in-person interview followed by a letter either accepting or declining the application.

GEF Seniors Housing will be handling all applications for Sakaw Terrace’s early 2019 opening for both the lodge and the apartment programs. Applications and the brochure explaining Sakaw Terrace’s housing programs will be available at all GEF Seniors lodge sites and at the Mill Woods Seniors Association, where members of the GEF Seniors Housing team will be available on a few select dates in February over the noon hour to answer questions and accept applications.

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For Sakaw Terrace, it’s more important than ever to have the knowledgeable GEF Seniors Housing staff available to go over the new housing programs available.

“Sakaw Terrace will be the first GEF Seniors Housing building to offer market level apartments and lodges to seniors at any income level,” explains Swonek. “We’re still offering affordable options as well to qualified seniors. Having both market level and affordable options is important because we want Sakaw Terrace to be available to as many seniors as possible.”

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The building team led by Chandos Construction continues to make huge strides on the Sakaw Terrace project. With the construction team working so closely with GEF Seniors Housing, the scheduling and the budgeting for the building can be kept in close check, ensuring Sakaw Terrace is completed on time and on budget. Swonek is exhilarated with the progress made on Sakaw Terrace in such a short time and is proud of how well GEF Seniors Housing has worked with the construction team.

The Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) model used for Sakaw Terrace pushed everyone, from the architects to the sub-contractors, to work as efficiently as possible without sacrificing any quality,” says Swonek. “All 900 people who have worked on Sakaw Terrace have done an amazing job on this building so far and I know Sakaw Terrace will set a new standard not just for GEF Seniors Housing’s buildings, but for seniors housing buildings all over Alberta.”

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After nearly five years of renovations, Canora Gardens (10160 151 Street, Edmonton) will be opening its doors in early 2018. The $13 million renovation project saw GEF Seniors Housing collaborate with The Workun Garrick Partnership Architecture and Interior Design as the designer and Emcee Construction as the general contractors. The team opened Canora Gardens up, tearing everything down right to the studs and rebuilt from the main foundation. The building itself now features 98 suites that have been redesigned to be better suited for seniors living.

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“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.”

The renovation project began as a reaction to a fire that spread through much of the building’s second floor. Upon inspection of the damage, Director of Facility Management Doug Kitlar could see how much smoke damage there was throughout the entire building.

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“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.”

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.

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“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.”

Applications are open now for Canora Gardens and the rooms are filling fast for the early 2018 opening. For Swonek, the excitement in the new tenants already approved to move in and from the community as a whole needing more affordable seniors housing options shows that Canora Gardens is a building to be proud of and filling a big need on Edmonton’s west-end.

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“I visited the build site often during construction because I’m a very visual person and I like to see the process being made,” says Swonek. “Canora Gardens is going to set a standard for seniors building renovation projects happening all across Edmonton.”

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It’s been just over two years since Ottewell Terrace opened its door in the east end Edmonton neighbourhood. The building added a whole new set of options for seniors living in the area, adding GEF Seniors Housing’s affordable apartments program that sees rent set at 10 to 15 per cent below market value in the area, and set a new standard for how GEF Seniors Housing approached new capital building projects.

“We were already established in the neighbourhood with Ottewell Place lodge and St. Nicholas apartments,” says GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek. “So we knew we wouldn’t encounter any apprehension with affordable housing being built in the area. Rather, what we encountered was a lot of excitement and anticipation for this new building and that drove some really interesting conversations with the community.”

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Ottewell Terrace’s grand opening celebration with Ward 8 City Councillor Ben Henderson and Provincial Minister of Advanced Education Marlin Schmidt.

GEF Seniors Housing held community consultation meetings before any ground was broken on the project. This helped to ensure the neighbourhood was on board with the project and that they were kept in the loop throughout the entire process. It was during the community consultation meetings that the idea of integrating a daycare centre into the building came to light.

“I was already aware of all the research that had gone into the benefits of intergenerational programming both for seniors and for children,” Swonek says. “The idea of having easy access to this kind of programming was very appealing for both us and for Primrose Place Family Centre. Since moving in, it’s been a highly successful partnership and brought a lot of value not just to the seniors and the children but to the community as a whole.”

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Ottewell Terrace’s first Christmas celebration.

It didn’t take long for the 54 suites in Ottewell Terrace to fill up with seniors excited to call the building their new home. For many of the people who moved into Ottewell Terrace, staying in their community was a big deciding factor for where they were going to live. As neighbourhoods in Edmonton age, so do the people who live in them and Swonek explains that when staying in their own homes is no longer safe or suitable for a good quality of life, affordable housing options need to be readily available in the community.

“A big philosophy we live by is aging in community,” says Swonek. “We’re seeing this kind of demand for affordable seniors housing in a lot of neighbourhoods across Edmonton, especially in older communities like Ottewell. People want to stay in their neighbourhoods, stay close to their friends and family, and keep seeing their same doctors and dentists who know them so well. This easily explains why Ottewell Terrace has become one of our most popular buildings for new applicants.”

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The view from one of Ottewell Terrace’s balconies.

With the success of Ottewell Terrace, Swonek is looking forward to implementing everything GEF learned from the whole process to new capital projects such as Sakaw Terrace and the new development in Elmwood. One of the biggest reminders he had from the Ottewell Terrace project is how much value affordable housing adds to a community.

“You offer people an affordable place to call home and it immediately changes their lives,” says Swonek. “I think every neighbourhood in Edmonton could benefit from having some affordable housing options. Research time and time again shows that mixed communities are healthier and happier places to live. Ottewell Terrace is just one example of how an affordable housing project can add so much value to a community.”

Jim Murland came back to Edmonton in 1948 after serving in the Second World War and he found his first home in the McKernan neighbourhood in the city’s south east. After he settled in his new home, one of the first jobs he had was adding stucco to the outer brick wall on Knox Metropolitan United Church in the Garneau neighbourhood. Now at 98 years of age Murland lives at Knox-Met Manor, an apartment building currently being managed by GEF Seniors Housing that was originally built in 1984 in part from help from Knox Metropolitan Church.

The church closed its doors in 2016 with plans to tear down the original building for a new condo development. For Murland, some of his memories of the church that first opened its doors in 1928 stem to one of the most distinctive design features on the building.  “I remember attending sermons at the church and always looking up at the stained glass window,” says Murland.

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Knox-Met Manor was one of the recipients of a section of the stained glass window because of its close ties to the church. Of the more than 80 tenants living in Knox-Met Manor, many share Murland’s enthusiasm about receiving the window.

Joyce Dahl has been living at Knox-Met Manor since 2000 and was the building’s tenant representative to the church group. She explains that preserving the role that the church played in the development of the property and the connection between the church and the Manor is one to be celebrated. The church played a significant role not just in the history of the Garneau neighbourhood but for Edmonton as a whole.

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One piece of history is the role Knox Metropolitan United Church played in the Edmonton chapter of Amnesty International. Before she moved into Knox-Met Manor, Florence Miller was a member of Amnesty International and would take the bus from her north side Edmonton home to the Garneau neighbourhood for meetings. She recollects the different events the Edmonton chapter of Amnesty International played in welcoming new communities to the city from all around the world and the work done to help ensure that these new groups knew they were welcome.

“Even now, there’s still a lot of diversity in [Knox-Met Manor],” Miller says. “We have neighbours from Egypt, Pakistan, South Korea, Papua New Guinea, all over. I want to make sure this piece the church’s stained glass window has a place in our building to commemorate the history of Edmonton being a welcoming city.”

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Gail Brown is part of a group of tenants at Knox-Met Manor who wants to see the donated piece of stained glass find a permanent place displayed in the building. Though only living in Knox-Met Manor for the past two years and having no direct connection to the church, Brown still feels a responsibility to preserve this piece of the community’s history.

“I’m in very strong support of public art that shows the history of our city,” says Brown. “The church is empty now but it helped build this place that so many people call home. We have a piece of the architecture and it’s something amazing that needs to be respected, preserved and its history maintained.”

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Lorna Etwell points out that the seventh floor of Knox-Met Manor is a perfect spot to mount the stained glass. It’s a shared space where tenants go to do their laundry, read a book, hop on an exercise bike, do a puzzle, or meet in the sun room that overlooks the Garneau neighbourhood and right to the spot where the empty Knox Metropolitan United Church stands for the time being. She recalled that after some discussion it was determined that the brick wall next to the book case was the best location to proudly display the piece of community history.

“It’s an honour to have received this gift from the church,” says Etwell. “We want to do right by making sure it has a place where is can be appreciated.”

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