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.”
On October 8, 2017, Ed Archer will turn 97 years old. When he tells people how old he is, they don’t believe him. This might be because at almost 97 years old, Archer still hasn’t really retired. After he moved into Rosslyn Terrace in 2014, he started asking around to some of the staff at the building if there was anything he could do to help.
“I’m not one to sit around for too long, I get bored,” says Archer. “If something needs to get done, if something’s broken, I just want to fix it.”
Rosslyn Place’s Site Maintenance Jim Cadzow heard that one of the tenants in the connected Rosslyn Terrace was looking for work to do and decided to see what he could help out with. Cadzow wasn’t expecting much at first and he was quickly and pleasantly surprised.
“I asked him if he was good at carpentry and he said he was, so I gave him a bench to work on, more or less to test out what he could do,” Cadzow says. “Next thing I know, he has the whole bench taken apart. He’s sanding and staining the wood and asking for new two-by-fours so he can replace some of the broken ones on the benches.”
Archer grew up on a farm in Mayerthorpe, Alberta, and explains that he took to working with his hands early on, fixing whatever he could whenever it needed to be worked on. That passion for hard work followed him throughout his retirement and, as Cadzow explains, he hasn’t lost much steam over the years.
“In all, Ed [Archer]’s taken apart and repaired 18 benches so far,” Cadzow says. “And this is good work. He hand cuts all the wood and replaces broken parts piece by piece. Looking at the benches, you would think they were brand new and before Ed got a hold of them, they were ready for the dumpster.”
Benches were only the start of Archer’s work around the Rosslyn buildings. Soon, he was pressure washing and repainting the gazebo in the courtyard, trimming trees, repairing the outdoor handrails, helping fix up sidewalks, and even repairing some of the mechanical equipment Cadzow was using.
“I had this snowblower and this rototiller, and neither worked really all that well,” says Cadzow. “So I asked Ed [Archer] if he knew anything about engines. He took apart the snowblower and rototiller, fixed them up, put them back together, and I haven’t had a problem since. They’ve never worked better.”
Cadzow quickly realized that Archer needed a designated spot to work on all of the projects he had been taking on. In the far corner of Rosslyn Terrace’s underground parking garage, a wooden sign hangs saying, “Eddie’s Workshop.” Cadzow made the sign for Archer and created a space for all the incredible work he’s been doing.
Archer typically spends most of his days down in his workshop. He’ll head down before 8:00 a.m., bring a lunch with him, and finish up around 4:00 p.m., just like if he was still working a regular day job. Cadzow often reminds Archer that he doesn’t have to work so much, but Archer’s drive keeps him going day after day.
“I still have one bench in my workshop that I haven’t been able to finish because of a foot injury,” Archer says. “I feel like that bench is laughing at me. I need to finish it. The doctor told me I can’t work until my foot heals, and I’ll be plenty happy when it does and I get back to work.”