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Towers prove attractive, affordable housing can save energy, too

Image of the two Kiwanis Towers in Richmond
The Kiwanis Club of Richmond relied on help via a collaboration with government and a developer, plus BC Hydro's New Construction Program, to double the number of low-income units on a site they had originally purchased and developed in 1959.

Kiwanis Towers in Richmond deliver livability, affordability, for seniors

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, they worked with a variety of partners – including BC Hydro's New Construction Program – to come up with a much more complex, but also much more satisfying, solution.

Kiwanis Club bought prime real estate in 1959

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," says Jack Mulleny, accountant for the Richmond Kiwanis Senior Citizens Housing Society, "and we really couldn't afford the repairs they would need. So we started to talk about re-developing the site – which is now absolutely prime real estate, 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 Chris Ho, Polygon's vice-president. "The land some non-profits own is becoming very valuable. This kind of public-private partnership allows for re-development that benefits everyone."

Image of a building sign at one of two Kiwanis Towers in Richmond

BC Hydro-funded study finds heating/cooling solution without air conditioning

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-modeling study – essentially a simulation of how much energy a building will use day and night over a full year.

Through the energy-modeling study, designers can 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.  

"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 Polygon's Chris 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.

Big electricity savings, plus great amenities

In all, the two Kiwanis Towers are expected to save more than 300,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year  over similar buildings constructed without similar 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 Polygon's Chris 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. 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 Jack 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."

How the Kiwanis Towers collaboration worked

  • The Richmond Kiwanis Senior Citizens Housing Society sold three acres of their five-acre site to Polygon Homes Ltd. to build market housing. The Society kept the remaining two acres
  • The Society then took the proceeds from the land sale and, with additional funding from two primary sources – BC Housing and the City of Richmond, made possible by a contribution from Polygon to the city’s Affordable Housing Reserve Fund – hired Polygon to construct two towers with 296 units for seniors
  • “We couldn’t have done it without Polygon’s contribution to the City,” says the Society’s Jack Mulleny, “or BC Housing’s construction financing. Because of these innovative sources of funding, we have been left with a mortgage that allows for very affordable rents.”
  • The Society owns and operates the two new Towers.

Construction and design team

Architect: Robert Ciccozzi Architecture Inc.

Energy modeller: Enersolv Design + Build

Electrical engineer: Nemetz SA & Associates Ltd.

Mechanical engineer: Yoneda & Associates

Construction manager: Polygon Construction Management Ltd.

Development manager: Polygon Minoru Affordable Seniors Homes Ltd.

More facts and figures

  • 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.

About the New Construction Program

The New Construction Program provides resources, technical expertise and potential energy study funding (some restrictions apply) to building owners, developers and the design industry to create high-performance, energy-efficient buildings.

To find out more, call your Key Account Manager, visit bchydro.com/construction or call 1 866 522 4713.