Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Minister of Seniors and Housing touts $10.3 million in funding for Bonnylodge

For the Bonnyville Nouvelle.

Minister of Seniors and Housing Lori Sigurdson presents a recognition certificate to Lakeland Lodge Chair Ray Prevost while Bonnyville Mayor Gene Sobolewski looks on.
Eric Bowling

Renovations of the local seniors’ lodge are about to begin as the provincial government has announced an eight-digit grant for the much-needed facility.

Minister of Seniors and Housing Lori Sigurdson announced a cash injection of $10.3 million to Bonnylodge for construction of a new wing for the aging building.

Originally constructed in 1958, the lodge was desperately in need of the money to keep up with the demand for the live-in centre, according to Lakeland Lodge and Housing Foundation chair Ray Prevost.

“When we started this project (getting the funding for the renovations), we actually had 74 rooms in this lodge. Then we moved up to 86,” said Prevost. “Now that we shut down the two old wings we only have 66. We’re actually worse off than we were when we started the project.

“This announcement of $10.3 million dollars is huge for us.”

Prevost added that currently the Bonnyville lodge had a waiting list of 60 names, and growing.

The development is the third phase of reconstruction of the lodge, following previous additions of 22 lodge-units and 60 apartments. The construction, which will add 46 new lodge-units as well as overhaul the kitchen and core services, will bring the lodge up to a total of 120 units that are up to modern standards.

“It’s an area that hasn’t really been invested in for some time. We have a lot of work to do across the province,” said Sigurdson. “Many of the facilities were built 30-40 years ago.”

Sigurdson pointed out that there were a number of utilities in many lodges that needed to be upgraded. As an example, she noted that many sprinkler systems that were installed in the 1990s were now behind current building codes.

She added, “Seniors need to be living in a building that has a fire suppression system.”

The original plan to build the lodge is almost a decade old – Prevost explained that he began trying to get the upgrades back in 2008 with a “needs assessment.“ After the results of the assessment were passed to the PC government headed by Ed Stelmach in 2009, Prevost noted that there wasn’t a shovel in the ground before 2012 when the first phase of development began.

“We always seemed to be fighting against someone else,” commented Prevost, expressing his relief that the government was finally taking his project seriously.

“After so many ministers and being bounced around from municipal affairs to health to seniors, finally we get the funding we need.”

Bonnyville Mayor Gene Sobolewski noted that the improvements to the lodge had been progressing on an on-and-off basis for years, which was very disruptive to the community.

“It was always to be planned in stages, but if you stopped mid-stage we would be down rooms. We needed it complete,” explained Sobolewski. “We’re so relieved and happy that the final stage will be finished.”

He added, “Every time they were doing the negotiations, it was always a budget cut. There were always concerns and there were always cutbacks, cutbacks, cutbacks. It was a struggle.”

Bonnyville-Cold Lake MLA Scott Cyr, of the official opposition, said he was grateful that the government was paying so much attention to the area, adding that the modest boost in jobs provided by the development was a welcome sight.

“It’s projects like this that are going to keep people working,” noted Cyr. “When you start putting in $10 million bucks a pop, that is significant. Don’t get me wrong, it’s one of those things that will only get a few hundred of us working, but every job counts right now.
“Even if it was one job, I would be jumping up and down.”

Seniors lodges are designed as retirement housing for low and moderate income seniors who are functionally independent. Suites include their own bathrooms, and serving areas, and the lodge provides meals and housekeeping for the residents.

More than 10,000 seniors live in lodges in Alberta. Sigurdson added that this was only the start of the government’s plans.

“We are beginning the engagement process for the affordable housing strategy,” explained Sigurdson. “Alberta is one of three provinces that currently don’t have an affordable housing strategy, along with Quebec and PEI.”

She added that her ministry had already held a meeting in Bonnyville to get people’s input on how to implement the strategy.

“We’re collecting all of that information right now, but we’re already moving on projects that we know need to go.”

Prevost noted that with the average lifespan continuing to rise along with the population, affordable housing and seniors lodges like those in the Lakeland area are going to become more and more important.

“Living to 70 is pretty normal now,” commented Prevost, adding that many people living at the lodge were in their 80s and 90s. “My wife has four aunts here, and they’re all 90.”

Sobolewski praised the province for finally taking seniors housing seriously.

“I’m just ecstatic. It’s one more accomplishment that we’ve been able to do with the new government to get some of these projects that have been on the books for such a long time finally moving forward,” said Sobolewski.

Sigurdson argued that the government had an obligation to help seniors live where they want to.

“Seniors want to age in their communities, we don’t want them to have to come to Edmonton. They’re from Bonnyville and want to live in Bonnyville. We want to make sure that happens.”

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