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Apartments for seniors under construction in Powell River

Sunset Homes Society building a 34-unit residential complex

Powell River Sunset Homes Society’s 34-unit apartment complex for seniors is starting to take shape, with construction having begun at the Joyce Avenue site where Max Cameron Secondary School used to be located.

According to project manager CaroleAnn Leishman, the volunteer board of the society continues to push the limits on what it can accomplish, which has always been the legacy of the non-profit society, starting with Olive and Alphonse Devaud. Leishman said longtime board members Stu Craig and Marlene Gosgnach served for many years alongside former society president, the late Myrna Leishman, and together, along with former board members Chuck Sparks, Art Palm and other dedicated volunteers, they hatched the plan to build a much larger rental apartment building to house more of Powell River’s seniors, as the waiting list just keeps growing.

“Myrna was adamant that the society sell the former Olive Devaud complex care facility building, which needed far too much work in renovations to bring it up to livable standards,” said Leishman. “It was costing the society a fortune just to keep the heat and lights on while it was vacant, so when a buyer came along, they took the offer and made plans to use that money to buy a new property and build a new energy-efficient and fully accessible building, with a range of apartment types. It had to have an elevator. Myrna would not budge on that item.”

Leishman said Agius Builders was retained in early 2017 and she began work on concept plans for the new building. Architect Jenny Whitten, of Roost Studio Architecture, who had just moved to town, was hired to begin work on the development permit and building permit drawings.

Leishman said it has always been a goal of Sunset Homes Society and Agius Builders as the prime contractor to use as many local sub-trades and employ as many local workers as possible, and to purchase as many building materials, plumbing supplies, flooring and fixtures through as many local suppliers as possible, “so that is a good feeling to see that happening.”

Project meets efficiency standards

The project will be registered with the Built Green Canada program, meeting higher energy efficiency standards, healthier indoor air quality standards, using sustainable building materials, water conservation, waste management, providing accessibility for seniors with mobility challenges, and have lower utility costs for the tenants, according to Leishman.

“The apartment units will be heated and cooled with electric ductless heat pumps, they will have healthier indoor air quality with heat recovery ventilation and the building will have a photovoltaic solar array on the roof to lower the building’s energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions, making it a much more comfortable and sustainable building for decades to come,” said Leishman.

Even though the building has an elevator, and all 34 apartment units and common areas meet full universal accessibility requirements, all tenants must be able to look after themselves. Leishman said Sunset Homes buildings are not meant to be complex care facilities, so tenants must be self-sufficient.

“This project really is a labour of love for me, as I watched my mom work so tirelessly to make life better for the seniors of our community, and this was the last project she was passionate about seeing come to fruition,” said Leishman. “It really comes around full circle for me and gives me so much gratitude to have been involved in the project, from the seed of an idea, to get to where we are now, starting construction. I only wish she could be here to stand alongside the other dedicated board members to see all that hard work become a beautiful new building that will support our seniors for decades to come.”

Craig, president of Powell River Sunset Homes Society, said Olive Devaud donated the property for the now-vacant Olive Devaud residence, located on Kemano Street in Westview. He said originators of the society built the Olive Devaud residence with a tremendous amount of community help and involvement in the 1950s. That residence has since been sold.

New build makes sense

In terms of modernizing, Craig said the society had discussed the prospect of refurbishing Olive Devaud residence for a combination of seniors housing and homelessness. He said, however, the cost of it was about the same as that of a new building.

“Why wouldn’t we build a new building rather than end up with a 70-year-old asset that had been refurbished?” asked Craig.

He said the new residence will double the society’s capacity to house seniors, adding another 34 units.

Craig said the residence is much needed. The vacancy rate in Powell River is less than one per cent and seniors are getting squeezed, he added.

“It’s partly because many seniors don’t have the funds,” said Craig.

The new seniors residence will offer a number of subsidized units for low-income residents, as well as a number of units where residents will pay full price, which will help offset the rental subsidies, added Craig.

“So many of our seniors in Canada are not in a position to pay the full rate,” said Craig. “If you’re making $1,500 a month, there’s no way you can afford that. Decent housing is a desperate need within our community. We provide affordable housing for seniors.”

The society is hoping the project can be built in 15 months, with completion slated for June 2022. Demand for residence is high and there is a waiting list of about 130 people who want to become residents. Craig said more people are phoning steadily.

He added the new project is not typical seniors housing and is “pretty high-scale stuff.”

“It would be a place I’d like to live in and that was part of the board’s philosophy,” said Craig.

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