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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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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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.”

A term that’s being used a lot during conversations about Sakaw Terrace is “mixed market housing.” What this term actually means could change a lot about how affordable housing projects are approached in Edmonton. GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek first encountered this idea while touring around different affordable housing buildings in England.

“This model of housing is actually fairly common in England, and there’s a good reason why,” says Swonek. “The housing organizations in England are some of the most stable and well-functioning I’ve ever seen and a lot of that comes from implementing this housing model.”

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For Sakaw Terrace, the mixed market housing will see 70 per cent of suites be designated for seniors living on a low- to moderate-income and pricing will be based either on the seniors’ income or set at 15 per cent below market value, like at Ottewell Terrace. The other 30 per cent of suites will be priced at a market value and will be available to any senior.

Where the benefit of this housing mix comes in is that the money from the 30 per cent of market value suites then goes back into the operations of Sakaw Terrace entirely, making it more financially sustainable and less dependent on public funding. The money GEF Seniors Housing is generating by using this model can then be reinvested into other parts of the organization for the benefit of the seniors.

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The mixed market housing approach has proven so successful in case studies from other parts of the world that the Province of Alberta actually included it as staple part of its major housing strategy in 2017. For Swonek, this is a strong sign that his vision for the future of GEF Seniors Housing is headed in the right direction.

“Some of the housing organizations I’ve seen implement a mixed market housing approach have generated surpluses that they’ve been able to invest back into their organizations,” says Swonek. “The fact that the Province of Alberta has included this approach to affordable housing in its housing strategy shows that it sees what I’ve seen and it’s willing to try something that’s never been done before in Alberta.”

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Once Sakaw Terrace opens its doors in 2018, it will be the first affordable seniors housing building in Alberta to implement the mixed market housing approach. With full confidence in this housing model, Swonek is already discussing how it will look in the future Elmwood project.

“This is what the future of affordable housing looks like and is the best and most sustainable approach to seeing more people helped with the affordable housing options that they so desperately need,” says Swonek. “I have no doubts that Sakaw Terrace’s implementation of mixed market housing will be a huge success and set a new standard for affordable housing in Alberta.”

On Tuesday, November 7, 2017, members of the GEF Seniors Housing Board of Directors and Senior Management team are setting up displays of the current conceptual drawings for the new building project on Edmonton’s west end in the Elmwood neighbourhood. Starting at 7:00 p.m. at the Elmwood Community Hall (16415 83 Ave.), the community consultation meeting will ask three very important questions to people currently living in the neighbourhood and surrounding areas: What should this new addition to your community be named? What do you like about the building drawings? What would you change with what you see in the building drawings?

“One of the most important processes we always go through with any new building project is to have at least three community consultations,” says GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek. “This will be the second meeting we hold with the Elmwood community and surrounding areas, who have shown a lot of support for this new building project.”

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The conceptual drawings were done by Jonathan Rockliff of RPK Architects, the architectural firm behind previous GEF Seniors Housing buildings such as Sakaw Terrace and Ottewell Terrace. Swonek explains that showing the drawings will help spur conversations from the community members attending the meeting, which will then in turn help give some direction to GEF Seniors Housing as to how the building will add value to the community.

“Some of the most interesting concepts we’ve integrated into our buildings have come from the conversations we’ve had with community members,” says Swonek. “Ottewell Terrace including Primrose Place Family Centre daycare into the building was a direct result of conversations we had with the Ottewell community. The ingenuity that came from the community members was invaluable to us and helped create one of the first seniors housing buildings with a permanent daycare centre in Alberta. It also spurred intergenerational programming that has been highly beneficial to both the seniors living in the building and the children at the daycare centre. We know that this level of collaboration will bring about creative innovations for Elmwood.”

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Once this second community consultation is complete, a third meeting will be scheduled to display the final details around the future building plus give some details for the construction work plan. Though Swonek is always looking ahead to the next steps in any project, he remains enthusiastic over the next community meeting with the Elmwood area and is excited to see what ideas the people from the neighbourhoods bring.

“Last time we held a community consultation for Elmwood, we were expecting maybe 30 people to attend and more than 100 came and was part of one of the liveliest community conversations I ever got to be a part of,” says Swonek. “We know the need on the west end is great and it’s only growing. We’re taking all the lessons learned from previous projects like Ottewell Terrace and Sakaw Terrace and applying them to the Elmwood project, ensuring that the building we construct in the area is a welcome addition to the community.”

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Ruth Belford remembers sitting at a bus stop in central Edmonton, where she’s lived almost her entire life. She explains that she looked across the street and saw two older homeless gentlemen sitting on a bench one cold winter day. It was what the two gentlemen were wearing that caught Belford’s attention.

“I looked across the street and I’m thinking, there’s two of my toques,” Belford says with a smile. “That was for me [the moment I realized] that’s where they’re supposed to go. And there they were, right across the street.”

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Belford lives at Ansgar Villa where she’s a part of a knitting group that gets together a few times a week to share knitting tips, try out new patterns, and socialize with her neighbours in the building. In fact, almost every GEF Seniors Housing building has a knitting club and each year the clubs combine everything they’ve made throughout the year and donate the items to local charities. In 2016, more than 5,000 items were donated to charities across Edmonton and 2017 is shaping up to see an even bigger donation out to the charities serving the communities who need it most.

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Dubbed the Great Knitting Giveaway, the knitting clubs gather together each year for a meal and to hear presentations from the charities receiving the donations. This year’s event, taking place on October 20, will feature presentations from organizations such as Operation Friendship Seniors Society, Youth Empowerment and Support Services, the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, Ronald McDonald House Charities, and the Mustard Seed. Item donated range from scarves and gloves for adults and kids to toques for newborns. Previous years even included knitted dolls for newly landed refugee children and nests for animals needing rehabilitation.

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The event acts as a reminder to the seniors who spend the whole year knitting that their efforts are going towards something important and that their contributions are both needed and appreciated. Sitting with other knitting clubs from around GEF Seniors Housing and seeing thousands of unique knitted items from other groups helps spur creativity in the knitters and prompts them to try new things when they reconvene for their regular knitting clubs.

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For Belford, attending the Great Knitting Giveaway event reinvigorates her desire to keep contributing to the communities who need the things that she and her knitting club create. She describes the excitement she feels when she goes into the event space and sees the piles of toques, mittens, scarves, and blankets all going to people who need them. “It makes you want to go home and just knit!”

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.”

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Every year, Sage Edmonton holds a free event to help seniors navigate all the different housing options available to them as their needs and necessities change with aging. The Seniors Housing Forum features presentations from housing organization experts, information sessions from public figures, and a tradeshow displaying the wide array of different supports and services that allows seniors to have an excellent quality of life.

“The Seniors Housing Forum aims to provide a wide range of information and resources for older adults to age well in their existing home, and to better understand the variety of options for seniors’ housing,” says Karen McDonald, Executive Director with Sage Edmonton. “All sessions at the Forum will be closed captioned to ensure they are accessible and participants will also enjoy a free lunch, coffee and tea, and door prizes.”

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This year’s Seniors Housing Forum will be held on Saturday, September 23, 2017, at the Central Lions Recreation Centre (11113 113 St., Edmonton) with the tradeshow opening up at 9:00 a.m. and presentations beginning at 10:00 a.m. Presentations at the event include information on financial literacy, new home technologies that help seniors age in their community, and a panel discussion on alternative housing options that will feature GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek.

“GEF Seniors Housing is involved with the Seniors Housing Forum because we believe the event serves a huge need for Edmonton’s senior population,” says Swonek. “There’s a lot of information and choices seniors need to make as they age. The Seniors Housing Forum helps ensure that seniors are getting the best information right from the source and making sure their changing needs are going to be met while maintaining their quality of life.”

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The information presented is relevant not just to seniors themselves but also their families, friends, caregivers, and anyone else interested in the ever-evolving landscape of seniors housing options. Last year’s event brought in around 1,200 people to explore the tradeshow and take in the presentations, looking for information on what housing options will best serve their own or their loved ones’ lifestyles.

“I always love presenting at the Seniors Housing Forum,” says Swonek. “Last year, presented on new housing models and introduce many of the new concepts we’re building into Sakaw Terrace to an audience that was interested and engaged. I always look forward to the seniors Housing Forum and am excited I was once again asked to present.”

Registration for the Seniors Housing Forum is now open and anyone interested is encouraged to contact Sage Edmonton directly at 780-809-8604 to register.

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