The low-income senior’s residence owned and operated by the John Perkins Memorial Housing Society just off Ironwood Street downtown is undergoing a major facelift.

Mass renovation for low-income seniors’ residence

$1.1-million project using 100 per cent local workers and suppliers

There aren’t too many million-dollar building projects happening in Campbell River these days, and when they are, they aren’t generally being done by small non-profit societies helping low-income seniors with their housing needs.

Well, the John Perkins Memorial Housing society, who owns and manages a 62-unit low-income seniors housing complex just off Ironwood Street downtown, is undertaking just that type of project.

The building, constructed in the 1970s, was in need of a substantial repairs, and the $1.1 million endeavour is a complicated one.

According to Derek Lamb, who sits on the board of the society, periodic inspections of the facility were causing concern amongst members – as were the draughty windows and doors – so they lobbied BC Housing for money to conduct a study on the structural integrity of parts of the buildings. Specifically, they were concerned about the balconies.

“You could feel the softness in the wood,” Lamb says. “You could feel the rot. It was like the balcony could just give way.”

BC Housing, Lamb says, “sent a team up here to review it and prepare a report on it. What they found was, yes, there was indication that the balconies and some of the siding and other areas of the building were not in good shape, but the review was not detailed.”

After fighting with BC Housing for some time for funding to get a proper report done, Lamb says, Read Jones Christoffersen Consulting Engineers out of Victoria was contracted to perform a detailed structural assessment of the facility.

“They found a number of issues and actually advised that we shut down the balconies or cordon them off,” Lamb says. “We actually had to remove an individual from an apartment because of the nature of the balcony – which was ready to collapse – (because) we were not certain he would not go out there even if we locked it off.”

With the official study complete, the board new they needed to take action. The assessment identified not only structural issues with the balconies, but also poorly insulated doors and windows, as well as some minor roofing problems.

Roy Ashdown of Ashdown Construction – who won the bid on the project –  says they have been making good progress and are actually ahead of schedule because of all the nice weather throughout August.

“The basic structure is good,” Ashdown says, “and even the rot that we’re finding is mostly cosmetic, except for in a few areas that aren’t ‘structural’ in the sense that they’re (not) load-bearing.”

Some of the problems have come about because of the reliance on “a friend of a friend,” coming in to do work on the place, Lamb says.

“There have been a few instances where they’ve been taken advantage of,” he says, citing an instance where painters came in and done a job improperly, because the proper paint to use was only available in Courtenay, and the painter just didn’t feel like going to Courtenay to get it – so he didn’t bother – and instead used paint that chipped and peeled.

“It wasn’t a legitimate company,” Lamb says. “It was just a friend of a friend who took them for $20,000 to do a half-assed job.”

“A lot of patches have been done over the years,” Ashdown agrees, “and not necessarily done correctly, so we’re doing it right.”

Phil Doyle, a senior who lives on site and also helps manage the building, has been through this before, having lived at Regal Manor when it went through a similar renovation.

“They had the same thing happen there, but without such a nice crew. These guys are totally different. These guys are gentlemen,” he says.

“This will solve a lot of the complaints from the tenants about cold air coming in and water and whatnot.

“They’re actually looking forward to having it done not because it’s bothering them that much, but because it’ll be great to actually have a warm place.”

Luella Schruder, another resident, agrees, saying she sees the inconvenience of the noise in the short-term as being of value in the long-term.

“It’s all for the best, so I don’t mind it one bit,” she says as she watches television in her apartment, her balcony boarded off and the hammers and saws ringing from the yard.

It also makes for a bit of entertainment.

“I didn’t know if I should be watching the cooking channel, the carpenter or the plumber,” laughs Schruder.

A big part of the reason Ashdown was chosen as the successful bidder on the project was not only that their projected cost was low, but because the money being put into the project would stay in the community.

“One of the things the board looked at was that it’s all Campbell River. That million dollars we’re spending, it’s going to stay here,” Lamb says.

Ashdown is a Campbell River-based company, the entire workforce on the project are Campbell River residents – including a few new hires that were made because of this particular project – and the building materials are all being sourced from the local Home Hardware.

“We like to work on projects like this because of the social aspect,” Ashdown says. “It’s not just about making money, it’s about making people’s lives better.”

Work is expected to be completed on the facility this November.

“It’ll be a much better place,” says Ashdown.