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New owner gets to work on seniors’ housing project

Troy Shantz A long-stalled seniors’ housing project in Sarnia is roaring back to life with a new owner at the helm.
Excavator operators Bill Tamimmnga, right, and Ron Meeuwisse demolish the south end of the former Devine Street School on May 1. Kathy Schrader, Special to The Journal

Troy Shantz

A long-stalled seniors’ housing project in Sarnia is roaring back to life with a new owner at the helm.

Demolition crews are levelling the former Devine Street School this week, the first step in constructing a 192-unit seniors complex in the city's south end.

“What we’re creating here on Devine Street, and what we wanted, was an oasis. That’s why we called it The Gardens,” said John Cathrae, CFO of Sussex Retirement Living Inc.

“We’re moving at absolute lightning speed to develop plans and to get the project ready, moving toward a building permit within the next few months.”

The Ottawa-based company purchased the Devine Street school property from Overture Investments late last year for more than $3 million, Cathrae told The Journal.

He said The Gardens Community, a two-year, $60-million project, could get underway this fall.

The completed facility would employ 150 full-time and part-time staff.

Built on the concept of “aging in place,” the complex will feature an eight-storey independent living residence and six-storey assisted living residence, Cathrae explained.

In the assisted living wing, each resident will have a customized care plan with special accommodations for residents with dementia.

“We’d like to be able to move people into a community early on when they’re still healthy… But at the same time they know that if they need support, they’ll be on site and they’ll be available,” he said.

“Once you move you don’t have to do it again.”

Cathrae said entry will be through a three-storey glass atrium, and the fenced-in grounds will be landscaped with gardens and sitting areas. Also planned is a rooftop terrace and a greenhouse.

Residents will be encouraged to care for themselves and others by doing optional tasks around the residence, offering a sense of purpose, he said.

Sussex first became interested in the property last summer, Cathrae said.

Commissioned assessments show Sarnia is a favourable location, based on age and income demographics.

“We don’t do anything unless there’s a definite market,” he said.

Initial meetings with Mayor Mike Bradley were encouraging and he thanked City Hall staff for their helpfulness.

Sussex has involvement in 17 retirement and long-term care projects, Cathrae said.

The property’s former owner, Overture Investments, had plans for an eight-storey assisted living complex and five-storey long-term care home.

It received overwhelming support from neighbours and council unanimously approved zoning and Official Plan amendments in 2017, but the project then stalled.

A preliminary rendering of The Gardens Community in Sarnia.Image courtesy, Sussex Retirement Living

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