Vintage Garden in North York

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Designing and building an innovative life-lease project to allow seniors to age in place

GTA Construction Report staff writer

Vintage Garden, a North York life-lease building designed to help seniors age in place, will allow its owner, the non-profit St. John’s McNicoll Centre (SJMC) achieve its mission to “face the challenges of an aging population, to meet the social demand for quality housing for the elderly, and to build a holistic housing and services community for seniors.”

Maple Reindeers Constructors Ltd. is building the project for St. John’s McNicoll Centre (SJMC) in the traditional suburban Chinese neighbourhood at Victoria Park and McNicoll Ave.  The project has been designed by CXT Architects Inc., and guided by life lease consultants Zock & Associates.

The 12-storey, 18,351 sq. m. first phase includes underground parking and more than 10,000 sq. ft. of ground floor amenities including a spacious entrance lobby with lounges, a water feature and a fireplace. The building also includes a medical clinic, multi-purpose recreation room, games room, exercise room, library, crafts, party and communal dining rooms, and a guest suite. It will include 184 apartments ranging from one-bedroom to two-bedroom with den.

CXT Partner Dan Teh and architect Amy Sheffield explained some of the Vintage Garden’s unique components.

“The ground floor amenity space will be partially used for resident programs and about half will be available for use by a public day program for seniors,” Teh said. “This way, residents will have access to more programs and other seniors from the community will be invited in.”

While open to anyone aged 55 or over, the Vintage Garden will contain some subtle Asian characteristics, reflecting the project’s market and community.

full phase development

“There is an increasing need for aging Chinese seniors to find accommodation away from their families which is not the cultural norm,” says Teh. “Vintage Garden will feature bilingual signage (English and Chinese) and respecting Chinese culture, the number four will not appear anywhere within the building – no fourth floor, no apartments with the number 4 contained in them.”

Other features include a front exterior elevation inspired by a Chinese screen, a Mah Jong room, a recreational walking loop, and a massage path constructed of smooth stone with a hand rail for residents to walk barefoot. This style of exercise is intended to improve circulation.

“The building and its programs are being designed with a holistic approach that intends to create a sense of community and keep minds and bodies active,” says Teh.

Extensive exterior landscaping will also include a beautiful garden and trellised BBQ patio.

Within the building, the design has been tailored to support residents aging in place. Sheffield says corridors are wider – a minimum of 1.6 m and will have handrails running along one side. All apartment entry doors and the entries into at least one bedroom and one bathroom will be 3 ft. in width.

“There is a nurse call system built into each suite and a relay between the stove and smoke detector that will turn off the stove if the detector is activated,” she said.

In addition, washrooms have been designed to be adaptable with step-in tubs and internal requirements for railings and grab bars already built-in for easy adaptation when they are required. Low profile thresholds have also been given consideration throughout the common spaces and apartments.

In order to maintain low operating costs, particularly heating and cooling, the brick and masonry structure has been designed to incorporate glazing for daylight as needed but in a controlled manner to help govern costs. Electrical fixtures are energy efficient and motion sensors in back rooms and common spaces will help save costs.

Sheffield says SJMC will maintain an interest in the property and so has had an avid interest in ensuring a high quality building envelope and systems. “The mechanical system is above average, the windows exceed condominium standards and the roof is high quality.”

Teh says these types of projects have garnered the attention of the Chinese community abroad as well. “We’re doing consulting with delegates from China who are interested to see how life leases work here. Canada has a good reputation for health care and seniors’ issues and with this becoming more of a concern in China, we’re able to provide culturally relevant advice and a model they can follow.”

The Vintage Garden is being constructed on a 5.8 acre parcel of land which will eventually include a second life lease apartment bringing the total number of units to 587, a Christian church (Toronto Emmanuel Church) and a five-storey multi-purpose medical and community services complex.

The concept of a life lease properties includes the right “to exclusive occupation of a unit in the building for the individual’s lifetime, plus the right to pass the life lease interest to the individual’s estate after death. The purchaser can transfer his or her life lease interest in the open market and receive the entire sales proceeds less an administrative fee.” In general the concept offers condominium-type living at more competitive rates than typical purchase prices.

Teh commends Dr. Lee, SJMC president for his vision and commitment to making the Vintage Garden a reality. “This whole community is based on a need he recognized and his vision for a comprehensive, holistic approach to aging in place.”

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