Lions Club

Lions Village Calgary

Lions take pride in affordable housing project

Claire Young, Calgary Herald

Saturday, May 26, 2012

CREDIT: Lorraine Hjalte, Calgary Herald When complete, the Lions Club Village will have 90 condo units. Lions members Bernie Gribben, left, Marlin Chambers, Wing-Kun Tam, Dave Hajny and Rose Geonzon help plant a tree at Lions Club Village.

CREDIT: Lorraine Hjalte, Calgary Herald

When Wing-Kun Tam became a member of the Lions Club in 1981 in Hong Kong, one of his first tasks was to organize thank-you presents for seniors the club was taking on a cruise.

They weren't lavish presents, but the pleasure they gave the seniors and their gratitude in receiving the gifts deeply moved Tam. Now, as the president of Lions Clubs International, Tam recently had the opportunity to visit Calgary and tour the Lions Village seniors affordable housing project under construction. His excitement about the project was profound.

"The Lions in Calgary are also supporting the elderlies," Tam says. "It is something that is giving them a small gift but is allowing them to stay in a nice place for the rest of their lives and know that we are taking care of them. This is a very important project."

When the Lions decide to take on a project, they pounce on it. Two years ago, the Lions Club of Calgary decided to turn their attention to much-needed affordable seniors housing in Calgary. It opted to transform the 16 small grey bungalows on the 0.6-hectare (1.51-acre) triangle of land they operated at the intersection of Crowchild Trail and Kensington Road N.W. into a four-story, 91,000-square-foot condo building. The 90 units will house up to 130 residents, a big increase on the 30 previous tenants.

"The inspiration came from the fact that the property was completely underutilized. We wanted to serve more people," says Otto Silzer, project co-chairman for the Calgary Lions Club, of the $20-million project.

The property was donated to the Lions Club in 1958.

"We will be 14 months from the time of the start of construction to occupancy - a fabulous timeline," says Silzer.

The Lions Club of Calgary received project approval from the City of Calgary in 2010, and residents should be moving in this fall. The club applied for, and received funding from, the provincial and federal governments, as well as putting in its funds. Designed by Norr Architects and Planners, the building will have 33 one-bedroom and 48 two-bedroom suites for low-medium income seniors who are functionally independent. There will be nine studio apartments for homeless seniors, one of which is a corner unit and has magnificent views overlooking the Bow River in two directions.

"This apartment would cost millions of Hong Kong dollars with this view," Tam commented as he toured this suite, adding that it warmed his heart to see that it will be enjoyed by seniors. The 10 suites on the ground level will be barrier-free, and residents will have access to elevators, as well as stairs to all floors. Each apartment has a kitchen and a three-piece bathroom. The building has lounge areas, including fireplaces, for socializing with friends and neighbors, and laundry is available on each level.

Lions Village maximizes its location across from the Bow River and the greenery of Edworthy Park; the windows are large and low, taking up most of the walls in the great rooms and bedrooms. Surface parking will be limited, but the location is close to public transportation. Centron Group of Companies is the project's development and construction contractor.

"Everyone on site feels a connection with the Lions Club," says Cole Harris, president of Centron. "We've cut three months off this project through the positive attitudes."

An industrial kitchen will be used by the Lions Club and also be available for social events, though not for daily food services for the residents. The facility will offer up-to-date services and support for seniors. Lions Village will be jointly operated by the Lions Club of Calgary and Bethany Care Society. Bethany Care has a long history of providing long-term care, supportive living, and independent housing for seniors in Alberta.

As part of his visit, Tam planted a paper birch tree in front of Lions Village. When he became president, he announced a mission to plant one million trees. The program has been so successful that more than 10 million trees have been planted.

"I love all trees, especially the maple and I'm not just saying that because I'm in Canada," says Tam, adding he has two maples at his home in Hong Kong and relishes watching them change color over the seasons.

The residents of Lions Village will be able to enjoy the birch's shade in the summer and its colorful display come fall, a small present from a Lion to a senior.

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