The Wheatland Housing Management Body (WHMB) has teamed up with the Wheatland and Area Hospice Society (WAHS) in their efforts to bring palliative care and additional seniors' housing to Strathmore and area. While the WAHS's original goal was just palliative care, that has since expanded into palliative care connected with a new seniors' lodge that would hold 120 beds.
Glenn Koester is a board member of the WAHS and the WHMB, and he is also the official spokesperson of the new lodge. He has been working to get community support to build the lodge, which has included an official commitment from the villages of Rockyford, Standard, and Hussar, as well as the Town of Strathmore. The only group that has not committed to date is Wheatland County, but Koester hopes the County will support their initiative, saying at the moment the WHMB has not yet thought of how to proceed if the County were to decide not to give their support.
Koester explained the cost of the new lodge would be $52 million, but each individual taxpayer would only pay "about the cost of a pizza each year." If the project gets the go-ahead from all involved municipalities, the financial contributions would look like this:
- Strathmore contributing approximately $2 million, which is a combination of an approximate $500 000 cash contribution and a land donation valued at approximately $1.4 million.
- Rockyford contributing approximately $30 000.
- Standard contributing approximately $45 000.
- Hussar contributing approximately $16 000.
- If Wheatland County supports the project, they would contribute around $4 million.
The contributions are one-time capital requisitions and are based on the populations and size of the varying municipalities. If the WHMB receives these contributions, Koester said they would then go to the Alberta Government to apply for an additional $7 million grant. If approved, they would have enough money to approach the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) to borrow the remaining funds. He believes the CMHC is the best option for a loan, as he said they give out 50 year mortgages and their interest rates have not changed much. If it all goes to plan, construction planning could begin this fall with shovels in the ground by next spring.
Koester said 99% of people he's spoken to through various community meetings support the lodge, saying additional seniors' housing is incredibly important.
"In 20-25 years the need in the area is going to be for 400 rooms, so this is just the start. We need more rooms, but we'll start small and we'll work our way there," he said.
Combined with the Wheatland Lodge and its 89 beds, that would put the capacity at 209. Koester expects the old lodge only has around 20 years left in its lifespan as the building is quite old but said the new lodge would have room for expansion.
With the current rental market being quite limited and expensive, Koester explained some seniors are having trouble finding places to live. With a limit on 1 bedroom units available, many seniors have to rent two or even three bedroom units which drives up their monthly costs, and in some cases seniors may not be able to afford their own unit.
This is a big reason why a new seniors' lodge is such a necessity, as it gives seniors an affordable living option that currently may not be available. Beyond the cost-saving benefits, Koester mentioned a seniors' lodge also comes with additional benefits like meals and housekeeping, and the positive mental health benefits of living in a lodge are also important to consider.
"As you get older you need some companionship and the social aspects of life, and the lodge provides that too with its activities. Just being there, you become part of the family, so the mental health helps out, the physical health helps out, and the financial health helps out."
If additional seniors' housing becomes available, Koester also believes this helps the community as a whole, as it would open up the rental market for other people who may need it.
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