Tag: building safety
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.”
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.”