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CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — A P.E.I. apartment building for vulnerable Islanders is coming together on Fitzroy Street – one modular unit at a time.
The four-storey, 28-unit complex is part of the Canadian Mental Health Association, P.E.I. chapter’s solution to the lack of affordable housing on P.E.I. The project is also part of the Rapid Housing Initiative by the federal government.
The units were built in a factory in New Brunswick and transported to P.E.I. where they are assembled, building-block style, at their destination over five days.
“Modular construction is faster, greener, and there’s more cost certainty and quality certainty around this particular method of construction,” said project manager Craig Mitchell, of 720 Solutions. He was giving tours of the modular build on April 25.
“Typically, on a regular site-built – construction site – 30 per cent of all material ends up in a waste bin,” he said, adding a modular project has less than two per cent waste.
And, because everything is planned out and purchased before the construction starts, material costs stay on track, said Mitchell.
“With modular construction, it’s all about reducing risk on the project,” he said.
There are three designs in the building, a 360-square-foot studio apartment and 660-square-foot one-bedroom and barrier-free one-bedroom units.
Each apartment arrives nearly move-in-ready – the fixtures, flooring, even the microwaves and towel bars are all installed when the module arrives on site.
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John Horrelt, the volunteer project manager with the CMHA P.E.I. division, said assembling the team to tackle the build was “one of those Canadian stories.”
“It all began with the good old hockey game.”
When he spoke to SaltWire Network on April 26, he said he has been volunteering with the CMHA for about 18 years and was involved in the application for funding for the Rapid Housing Initiative project from the start.
Back then, Horrelt’s daughter and son-in-law were home for a visit from Calgary and overheard him talking about the project, which had to be modular to be eligible for funding.
“My boss plays rec hockey with a guy in Calgary that’s big into this modular housing,” said his son-in-law. “Would you like to talk to him?”
“The next day, Troy Ferguson and I had a call,” said Horrelt, referring to the president of 720 Solutions. “We hit it off and we went from there.”
It took a year of weekly team meetings to design the building and plan the project.
“What you’ve seen in the last five days is the result of all the relationships coming together to make it happen. It’s been a truly rewarding experience. (I’ve) certainly enjoyed the relationships, the professionalism, the collaboration – it’s been fantastic.”
Horrelt said the subsidized units will go to clients within the purview of the CMHA, for about 60 per cent of market rates.
Current rents in Charlottetown are around $1,200 to $1,600 per month for a similar unit.
“That’s not attainable for most folks,” he said, and explained CMHA is already considering who will be living in the units.
“We have a running list of clients that are seeking appropriate housing.”
The organization owns or helps manage more than 200 units in P.E.I. through its housing programs.
With more than 100 employees and a growing slate of programs, the P.E.I. division has outgrown its primary office at the corner of Fitzroy and Hillsborough Streets. So, the new building will contain not only 28 apartments but will also have space for peer support programs and offices for the housing outreach program. The basement will have meeting space available to the CMHA and other community groups.
“What CMHA can provide in programming and guidance gives you that wrap-around service that’s required for people that can’t necessarily make it 100 per cent on their own,” said Horrelt.
Horrelt’s career is construction, so he was a natural choice to be part of the new project.
“My background comes from all stick framing and traditional construction, but we can't’ do it all,” he said. “With the need for housing, we need every different type of source, so modular is one of the solutions because of the labour and material availabilities and costs – this is just another way to get the product out that we need.”
New housing complex will offer more than just a place to live. Programs and office space for the P.E.I. division of the Canadian Mental Health Association will also have space in the building.
The project is part of the federal government’s Rapid Housing Initiative and relies on a 20-year commitment from the provincial government to make sure the project doesn’t fail, said John Horrlet, the volunteer project manager from the P.E.I. CMHA.
The remaining balance will be handled by the CMHA.
Mark Jennings, co-owner of Leading Edge Group, was the site general contractor who prepared the lot for the building. His team will pick up where 720 leaves off and add the exterior siding and the finishing touches to the landscaping and parking areas.
“We definitely learned a lot with this being the first modular build,” said Jennings. “The planning is huge, to have everything set out it. Because once that’s set, there’s no turning back.”
He said he would consider another modular building in the future but added this was a heavily funded project.
“This is affordable housing with government funding,” he said, “There’s a lot of factors in whether it will transfer over to the private sector or not.”
Steve Dunne and Jon Locke are building a 24-unit apartment building in the West Royalty area of Charlottetown. They toured the CMHA project on April 25.
“Quite impressed, certainly with the speed of construction,” said Dunne. “The other reality is, it’s getting challenging to get people to build, so this is another alternative way to maybe get things done.”
Bill Haliburton, from 720 Solutions, said the CMHA project has “gone exceptionally well”.
“I don’t think either of us have been on a project like this that’s gone this well,” he said nodding to Mitchell.
“The biggest thing is the willingness to learn about the modular process, amongst all of the owner group and the contractors, I think is what really helped this project be successful to this point,” said Mitchell.
Alison Jenkins is a health reporter with the SaltWire Network in Prince Edward Island. @AlisonEBC
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