What do you do with 14 aging, one- or two-storey buildings scattered around a large, five-acre piece of property smack in the heart of one of B.C.’s fastest growing cities? The easy choice is to simply sell it all to the highest bidder. But that’s not what the Richmond Kiwanis Senior Citizens Housing Society did.
Instead, it worked with a variety of partners – including BC Hydro’s New Construction Program – to come up with a more complex, but also much more satisfying, solution.
Prime real estate
The Kiwanis Club of Richmond acquired the site in 1959, when Richmond’s total population was about 25,000 (it’s now more than 200,000), and over time built 122 low-rise housing units for seniors.
“But these were beginning to reach the end of their useful life, and we really couldn’t afford the repairs they would need,” says Jack Mulleny, accountant for the Richmond Kiwanis Senior Citizens Housing Society. “So we started to talk about redeveloping the site – which is now absolutely prime real estate located right next to Minoru Park, and walking distance to the library, shopping, everything really – but it took us a while to figure out how best to do it.”
Facing the realities of new construction
The Society wanted to at least double the number of affordable units for seniors on the existing site, but the realities of financing new construction today made going it alone impossible. Eventually, the non-profit group entered into an innovative collaboration with government and a private-sector developer, Polygon Homes Ltd., to build two 16-storey towers with a total of 296 one-bedroom rental units for seniors with low incomes.
“The project came about due to some very creative thinking by our land department and the Kiwanis Club,” says Polygon vice president, Chris Ho. “The land some non-profits own is becoming very valuable. This kind of public-private partnership allows for redevelopment that benefits everyone.”
Energy efficiency does not have to be expensive
Key to the design of both towers was ensuring the units would be energy efficient. “We wanted to make sure our tenants would be comfortable, but also that their electricity bills, which they pay themselves, would be reasonable,” says Mulleny.
On a recommendation from the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, the Society and Polygon decided early in the design process to participate in the BC Hydro New Construction Program, which provides funding for an energy-modelling study – essentially a simulation of how much energy a building will use day and night over a full year. The study allows designers to compare various lighting, heating and cooling systems as well as windows, roofing, wall and other products, and even look at how the building is situated on the site, to determine the most energy-efficient design.
The Kiwanis Towers study showed that durable electric baseboard heating, combined with a good, well-insulated building envelope and other passive measures, such as solar shading, could work just as well as installing a much more expensive HVAC system to help ensure happy tenants.
“The study showed us that, with the right design, people would be comfortable without air conditioning,” says Mulleny. “And that meant we could avoid considerable capital costs.” By being easy to operate, it also, says Ho, “means that the Kiwanis Club is not encumbered by an overly complex or technical system that they have to figure out how to operate.” Plus the design will result in considerable energy savings year after year.
Great energy savings and amenities
In all, the two Kiwanis Towers are expected to save 300,000 kilowatt hours of electricity more annually compared to similar buildings constructed without the same level of energy-saving measures. The vast majority of those savings will come from the improved building envelope.
“We are excited about how these towers were built,” says Ho. “It’s a very basic and simple system, but it just made the most sense here. Sometimes, people take an overly complex approach to trying to be green, and they lose sight of affordability. Baseboard heaters are simple, clean, individually metered systems that can reduce consumption even below the really expensive, fancy systems. Through working with BC Hydro and the Kiwanis Board of Directors, who were really smart and forward thinking, we came up with a great solution and I think a great couple of buildings.”
Amenities for the Kiwanis Towers include a large meeting/party space, a yoga or fitness room, a hair salon with mani-pedi stations, outdoor patios and community gardens. “We’re very proud of the development,” says Mulleny. “It was an education and a pleasure to work on it with Polygon, the City and BC Hydro. Our tenants have been very surprised at the great quality of the Towers and their units.”
- Existing tenants had first dibs on new units. All units were fully leased within six weeks, including more than 30 tenants from the old facility.
- To be eligible for a unit, tenants must be 60 years and older, and have an annual household income within a certain range.
- Priority is given to Richmond residents.
- Units range in size from 585 to 640 square feet.