A little over a year ago, GEF Seniors Housing broke ground on Sakaw Terrace, the newest affordable seniors housing project for the organization and the first for the Mill Woods neighbourhood. The event was celebrated with appearances from Edmonton Ward 12 City Councillor Mohinder Banga, Provincial Minister of Labour Christina Grey, Provincial Minister of Seniors and Housing Lori Sigurdson, and with a message from the office of Federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi.
For GEF Seniors Housing Director of Facility Management Doug Kitlar, the progress made on Sakaw Terrace over the past year has even surpassed his expectations. He explains that with the designers at RPK Architects and the contractors at Chandos all being invested in the project along with GEF Seniors Housing, the team is working collaboratively to find more efficiencies and creative ways to reduce unnecessary spending without compromising the overall building.
“Sakaw Terrace is being built on what’s called an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD),” says Kitlar. “What this basically means is that everyone has some skin in the game. The IPD contract has ten parties signed on plus GEF Seniors Housing. All ten of the IPD parties have put their profits on the line for the duration of the construction, which keeps everyone invested in finding those efficiencies and keeping everything on schedule. If the project comes in under budget, the IPD parties share in those profits. If the project comes in over budget, all parties share in those extra costs out of their profits.”
With an opening date pending in late 2018, keeping Sakaw Terrace on schedule has been of significant importance to Kitlar. He explains that the project did see some setbacks in its first year, including issues with the soil conditions at the building’s location.
“The soil at the Sakaw Terrace site is very moist mostly due to the fact we had a lot of rain over the summer” says Kitlar. “We had to dig deeper than anticipated in a few areas to find solid ground to build on, but the IPD process has brought everyone together to find solutions that don’t compromise the building. Despite the challenges we’ve had, Sakaw Terrace has seen plenty of steady progress.”
The structural steel is completed and concrete flooring has all been poured, giving Sakaw Terrace its shape and structure. The driveway down to the underground parking lot has been poured and the asphalt that will eventually act as the above ground parking has been laid and is currently being used for construction vehicles to carry in supplies.
Throughout the entire progress of the Sakaw Terrace project so far, Kitlar works to keep in mind who the building is for and why it’s so important to the community. The number of seniors living in the Mill Woods community sits around 20,000 and many are in need of affordable housing options that simply don’t exist right now in the neighbourhood.
“Sakaw Terrace will have 158 units, obviously not enough to address the entire need in the Mill Woods community, but enough to get the ball rolling and start some big conversations about this need that really isn’t exclusive to Edmonton’s south,” says Kitlar. “I’ve yet to go through an Edmonton neighbourhood that wouldn’t benefit with some affordable housing options, be it for seniors or families. The need is so obviously there and hopefully Sakaw Terrace can demonstrate a really good solution to keep addressing this need.”
Doug Kitlar stands on the main floor of the Sakaw Terrace construction site, looking out to the Bobcat skid flattening the wet soil where the first asphalt for the building’s main parking lot will be laid. He explains that this first layer may not last through the end of the construction but is being installed to help with the rest of the construction project by covering up the mud.
“The soil’s been so wet all summer, it’s been hard to move anything,” Kitlar explains. “The asphalt is going to be damaged by the end of the project as we keep moving materials and equipment across it, but it’s going to make our lives a lot easier as we move forward on the project. It will of course have the finished layer laid toward the end of the project.”
Kitlar’s role as GEF Seniors Housing’s Director of Facility Management has seen him work on his fair share of new building projects. Sakaw Terrace has seen Kitlar and the rest of the teams with GEF Seniors Housing and Chandos (Sakaw Terrace’s general construction contractor) branch out into trying new approaches while completing the building project. It’s been close to one year since shovels first broke ground on Sakaw Terrace and the project is moving fast.
All four above ground floors and the underground parking garage have all had concrete poured for the flooring to the north wings and central core, making it possible to walk through every floor of the building (with the right safety gear, of course). The structural steel frame is nearing completion, giving the building its familiar shape. The remaining concrete will be poured over the next month.
With progress moving so smoothly on Sakaw Terrace, Kitlar already has his mind on developing show suites. He explains that the main floor will display one lodge room and one apartment room that will first be used for weather and pressure testing, to ensure that no matter the weather outside the inside of the building and the suites will stay dry. Once the suites meet all the demands for weather and pressure testing, they will be an established standard for the finishes in all suites in the building and ultimately become the show suites for prospective tenants.
“In about a month or so, we’ll start putting together the show suites to be pressure tested,” says Kitlar. “If things keep moving as they are now, we should be able to show our future residents and tenants the show suites by spring 2018.”
The next steps for the construction crew that will take the project into the New Year include paving the west side parking lot, finishing the ramp down to the underground parkade, securing the last of the structural steel walls, and installing the last of the roofing.
Standing on Sakaw Terrace’s roof, there is a great view of the city’s south side and of downtown Edmonton’s skyline. The roof is sturdy and secure and the ventilation system vents are already being installed. Kitlar smiles as he looks out to the Edmonton skyline and reminisces about his affinity for going on buildings’ roofs.
“When I first started with GEF Seniors Housing, I went out on to every building’s roof to get to know everything with all the buildings,” Kitlar explains. “I took a photo from each rooftop and displayed them to the managers and had them guess where each photo was taken. With this unique view, no one will have problems guessing any photo taken from here.”
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.”