“What I love about this place is the people.”

“The warmth here … that’s the reason I came.”

“The people are my style.”

These are just some of the heartfelt comments from tenants and residents at Sakaw Terrace as they shared their thoughts during Sakaw’s first anniversary celebration on November 6, 2019.

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More than 100 tenants, residents and GEF staff marked their first year together with individual cupcakes tea and coffee, and reminiscing on the past year, with plenty of laughter and a few tears from those who spoke.

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Site manager Manak Dhillon remembered holding interviews with prospective tenants and staff members in a trailer in the parking lot. He also remembered the last-minute flurry of permit approvals, making sure everything was in place before people moved in. Not everything went as smoothly as he had hoped, but “we got it all done – just in time.”

Assistant Manager Teslene Walters shared that she has been in every single suite more than five times. She remembered walking through the suites with just the framing done and then again – a few more times – when all the walls were up to make sure everything was perfect for each tenant and resident to move into their new home. She could tell you anything you would want to know about each room.

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Sakaw Terrace opened its doors on November 1, 2018 and the first residents moved in right away. Over the next few months, the apartments and lodge rooms filled up. Currently Sakaw Terrace is home to 175 seniors and is a vibrant community.

The official Grand Opening was held on February 27, 2019 and more than 160 tenants, residents, staff and guests joined in the festivities. You can read more about the Grand Opening in a previous blog story.

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On February 27, 2019, Sakaw Terrace (5815 Millwoods Road South, Edmonton) held its Grand Opening. Over 160 residents, tenants, guests and staff joined us to celebrate this very momentous occasion.

“The official opening of Sakaw Terrace is a very proud time for GEF Seniors Housing as it allows seniors living in the Mill Woods community an affordable, secure and friendly place to call home,” explained Raymond Swonek, CEO of GEF Seniors Housing.

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GEF Seniors Housing CEO, Raymond Swonek, speaking with Global News

MLA for Edmonton-McClung Lorne Dach MC’d the event and we heard wonderful speeches from the Honourable Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Natural Resources; the Honourable Christina Gray, Minister of Labour; GEF Board Chair Karen Lynch and ASCHA’s Executive Director Irene Martin- Lindsay!

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The Minister of Natural Resources, Amarjeet Sohi

The day was full of big smiles and happy hearts. Residents and tenants who have already moved in were so excited to show off their new home. After the speeches were done, a ribbon cutting to announce the official opening commenced. Cake and refreshments were followed by tours of the building. Guests who went on the tours were impressed by the 70 lodge rooms and 88 apartments, two outdoor courtyards, a communal greenhouse, a theatre room, a salon, a bistro, underground and above ground parking and much more!

Seven years from concept to occupation, on November 1, 2018, GEF opened the doors to welcome the first Sakaw Terrace residents. This carefully planned project adopted an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) collaborative partnership approach to construction.  “What this 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” explains Doug Kitlar, Director of Facility Management. By using this method, the project was able to be completed ahead of schedule and under budget!

The building is currently 90% full and hoping to be at 100% in the next few months. Residents and tenants are feeling at home living at Sakaw Terrace. “I just love the new building. The meals are wonderful and the sugar cookies are just delightful” said a lodge resident. An apartment tenant mentioned “it is my first time in community living and I am more than over the moon. The building, the staff, there is nothing not to like.” One other apartment resident said “I like my apartment. Everything is lovely. It’s beautiful. I like my privacy, but I never feel alone here.”

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After five years of being with the on-call maintenance team, Matt Johnson knows how to spot the week’s theme, or sometimes even the day’s theme, for the on-call services at GEF Seniors Housing’s forty buildings throughout the city. He notes that after three or four similar calls, he can easily predict that many of the other calls for the week will follow a familiar pattern. He remembers one long night in particular where a few difficult calls flooded in.

“A fire line burst at Rosslyn Place and flooded down through the whole building,” remembers Johnson. “I was there for a few hours with the site managers and the fire department just trying to clean things up and get things back in good working order. I got home and about thirty minutes I got another call that Ansgar Villa had started flooding.”

GEF Seniors Housing’s on-call maintenance team sees the on-staff trades taking turns having their cell phones and pagers on hand in case of any emergency at the buildings. The 16 members of the team take weekly rotations where they’re responsible for the after-hours, holidays, and weekends when GEF Seniors Housing’s offices aren’t open. Maintenance Manager Tony Lovell started off with GEF Seniors Housing as an on-call tech around 26 years ago and remembers a very different working environment.

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“There was only two of us on-call at that time, so it was basically one week on, one week off,” explains Lovell. “There were only around 20 buildings that GEF Seniors Housing managed, so it wasn’t like there were two of us looking after all forty buildings we have now. Still, it was fairly hectic and we had to learn how to prioritize projects pretty quick.”

Today, there are always two maintenance techs assigned to on-call. Lovell, along with Maintenance Administrator Doreen Kinney, start the year by assigning the on-call schedules, beginning first with prioritizing who’s looking after the Holiday Season. Johnson remembers this past holiday season being particularly hectic for the on-call staff because of the sudden cold snap that hit in December.

“I wasn’t assigned to on-call but I checked in and found a few places where I could lend a hand,” says Johnson. “The whole crew is really good for working together on both helping out when a lot of calls come in and even for the initial scheduling.”

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Lovell points out that once the schedule is complete, he and Kinney post it up in the maintenance department at Central Services. It doesn’t take long for the team to get together and start moving around days, ensuring that they continue to have a good work-life balance.

“The schedule looks different pretty-well every day,” Lovell says with a laugh. “The crew is really good about working together on the scheduling, switching out dates for whatever might come up.”

The techs assigned to on-call work on any issue that might come up, even though they may have a specified trade. Johnson and Lovell are both plumbers by trade but have experience working on everything from the key system to electrical tasks and heating issues.

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“I’ve always been really handy and I like having my fingers in a lot of different practices, so working on things outside of my trade is nothing new for me,” says Johnson. “Working on all kinds of different building issues still teaches me a lot. Everyone on the on-call team is prepared for pretty much anything.”

The way the actual call system works hasn’t changed much since Lovell first joined the team. When an emergency occurs, the tenant at the building calls GEF Seniors Housing’s answering service provider requesting assistance. The answering service provider system then sends a message to the GEF Seniors Housing staff tech’s pager (yes, pager) with contact information to the person who made the assistance call. Lovell points out that using pagers isn’t a result of not updating the technology within GEF Seniors Housing. It’s actually because of a lack of a more reliable option.

“A lot of our techs live outside of the city and a lot of the times they work in basement mechanical rooms, and all of this affects cell phone signals,” Lovell explains. “Pager signals are still quite a bit stronger than cell phone signals. This is why they’re still used by doctors. Surgeons and techs are the last professions still using pagers.”

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For Johnson, working his week as the designated on-call always has its array of challenges. He stays motivated by remembering the people he serves and what his role is in making sure they’re living with a good quality of life.

“The people I work with are always very grateful when you get their heat working in the winter time,” says Johnson. “I’d be lying if I said that the decent extra bit on my paycheque isn’t a good reward for being on call. But I really do enjoy the people part of the job. I get to improve some part of a person’s life. And that’s what I do every time I go into a building. I look for ways to improve things and make things better for the people.”

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At the end of each year, I always take some time to reflect for myself. I picture where we started the year, see how far we have come over the past 12 months, and think about everything we have achieved. To say the least, 2017 has been a year of a lot of changes and growth for GEF Seniors Housing as a whole.

We have a lot to be proud of from the work done over 2017. GEF Seniors Housing is continually evolving, growing, and finding better and more creative ways to provide seniors with housing options that are friendly, affordable, and secure. Here are a few highlights from this past year.

 

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Swonek at the Canora Gardens construction site.

It’s been just over a year now since Sakaw Terrace broke ground and the construction process has been going remarkably smooth. Sakaw Terrace is well on its way to being completed and opening its doors in early 2019. Most of the concrete has been poured, the structural steel has been erected, and suites are beginning to be framed.

Canora Gardens is opening its door in 2018 and we’re accepting applications for seniors to move in and call this west-end building home. We stripped the suites right down to the studs, upgraded all the mechanical and fire protection systems, and re-designed the building to better accommodate senior living.

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Swonek presenting at the second meeting with the Elmwood community.

We held our second Elmwood community consultation meeting and despite the cold wind and snowfall, we still had 90 people fill the Elmwood Community Hall and share their thoughts on the initial architectural drawings provided by Jonathan Rockliff of RPK Architects. The ideas expressed at this meeting are being brought to the planning committees for the Elmwood building project and being included in many of the conversations that will eventually result in this new seniors housing building in Edmonton’s west-end.

Our fundraising efforts saw some significant contributions over 2017. This past April, the Building for Life Breakfast Fundraiser saw more than 300 members of the community and donate more than $80,000 towards Sakaw Terrace. GEF Seniors Housing is still collecting donations to go towards new capital building projects in the City of Edmonton so that no senior ever has to worry about where they will call home.

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Swonek and other members of the GEF Seniors Housing team volunteered for Habitat for Humanity’s Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter Work Project over the summer.

The team of volunteers we have with GEF Seniors Housing is second to none and works incredibly hard to continually improve the lives of seniors who call our buildings home. In 2017, more than 1,300 individuals gave GEF Seniors Housing close to 60,000 hours of volunteer time. Thank you to all of our volunteers for the time and effort you give to improve the quality of life for so many people.

In November, we learned that GEF Seniors Housing was once again named one of the Best Small and Medium Employers in Canada (BSME). Our receiving this distinguished honour is a direct result of a staff survey hosted by Aon Hewitt and Canadian Business magazine. We were placed in the Platinum category, the highest designation an organization can receive. It’s always exhilarating to see our name among so many other amazing organizations and knowing that the people who work with GEF Seniors Housing make such a concerted effort to keep this place somewhere amazing to work.

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Swonek and other members of the GEF Seniors Housing team at the staff appreciation barbecue.

Thank you to everyone who makes up the GEF Seniors Housing community for another amazing year. The staff  who work with us, the seniors who call our buildings home, the like-minded organizations who we partner with, and the neighbourhoods who welcome us and know the value of affordable housing all played part in what made 2017 another amazing year.

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.”