St. Adolphe Daycare and Seniors Housing Initiative Dissolved


The empty lot at 420 Main Street St. Adolphe, former site of the personal care home Dustin Krahn

The seniors housing and daycare project proposed for the site of St. Adolphe’s old personal care home (PCH) has officially been dissolved.

At their November 2017 meeting, Ritchot council passed a resolution to decline Niverville Heritage Holdings Inc.’s (NHHI) offer to help create the facility at 420 Main Street, stating in the meeting minutes that, while the concept plans address the needs of the community, “there is too much unknown risk associated with the project at this time.”

History of Project
The original proposal brought forward by NHHI—a not-for-profit organization holding the assets to the Niverville Heritage Centre campus—would have encompassed three stages of senior living. The first two would have included eight life lease units and 24 assisted living units, all with indoor parking. NHHI would also have entered discussions with Manitoba Housing to integrate a third stage of seniors living: supportive housing in the form of the nearby The Chalet.

Based on the successful Heritage Centre model, NHHI also proposed that a daycare centre be included, in addition to commercial space for a medical clinic, physiotherapist, and other health practitioners. A community café, which could double as food services for the seniors, was also among the early discussions.

“Their decision is a very difficult one because it’s a lost opportunity,” says Gord Daman, spokesperson for NHHI. “Is it a mistake? None of us can ever judge. There will always be unknown risks involved, but that’s, quite frankly, the entrepreneurial nature of doing anything regarding social enterprise. You can never go into these arrangements without some level of risk, because if there was no risk there would be a line-up of people wanting to do it. Without risk you’d have all of these senior housing and daycare spots already available. But there’s a required commitment from a community to invest in the common good, and there’s a cost to that.”

The initiative first took root in 2009 when NHHI was able to successfully collaborate with the province for the PCH spots once allocated to St. Adolphe. The PCH building was no longer deemed safe and the community lay within the Red River flood zone, creating unnecessary risk for vulnerable seniors. NHHI also needed to purchase the condemned building and land that it sat on as part of the agreement.

Further to that, NHHI offered former Ritchot Mayor Bob Stefaniuk and his council a promise to assist the community in creating a new seniors and childcare facility, using the many years of expertise they’d gained through the creation of Niverville’s model.

“It was very much about honouring our commitment because the RM could have stood in our way and blocked the effort of us rebuilding the PCH here in Niverville,” says Steve Neufeld, administrator of the Niverville Heritage Centre. “Had they done that, all the care home beds would have gone to Winnipeg. So we wanted to do something meaningful [in return].”

Numerous ideas and proposals came forward between Stefaniuk’s council and NHHI. It was agreed that NHHI would provide leadership throughout the planning and creation process. The derelict building was to be removed at NHHI’s cost. The RM was then to participate in the detailed design of the facility, tender the build to the construction company of their choice, and handle the mortgage. NHHI was to aid council in setting up a governance committee and provide guidance for its governance if needed.

“Our [NHHI] board would not undertake the initiative directly,” says Daman. “Not because there was significant risk, but simply because we had our hands full [with the Heritage Centre]. We wanted Ritchot to effectively create their own Heritage Holdings or use their Community Development Corporation to help them to do that.”

The two parties shook hands on the deal. Neufeld and other Heritage Centre staff went to work over the course of the coming years applying for government grants available at the time for affordable seniors housing and daycare spots.

They were able to secure funds from Manitoba Housing to the tune of $780,000 toward the building of 12 units. This meant that 12 out of the 32 suites would be designated as subsidized housing for lower income seniors.

Another government grant of approximately $590,000 was attained for the construction of a 90-spot daycare, along with the promise of operational funding after it was built. This would have made it a fully licensed and subsidized daycare facility.

The funding was contingent on finding a licensed daycare provider to run it. The existing St. Adolphe daycare was approached to take on these extra spots. They turned them down, citing that they were too small an entity to manage the extra spots. NHHI then approached Growing Minds, a licensed daycare provider in Niverville, who agreed to run the spots from the St. Adolphe facility. Eventually, with a change in board members, they also withdrew from the project, but NHHI was able to hold these spots and actively began seeking another operator.

The almost $1.4 million in secured grants meant that about one-fifth of the facility’s costs were already covered. With the potential for revenue to be generated from the seniors housing units, daycare, community café, and leasable space, the NHHI was confident this project could have a breakeven outcome for the community.

Stefaniuk eventually retired from his position and Jackie Hunt was elected the new mayor. Negotiations continued through Hunt’s years in office. This council agreed to share the interest costs with NHHI as they financed the demolition of the old PCH. In return, NHHI agreed to transfer the land back into Ritchot’s hands for the remaining cost of the demolition. Hunt’s council requested that NHHI work together with the consultants they’d hired for the community’s Main Street revitalization project to ensure that the project lined up with the rest of the plans for the community.

Losing Ground
With the dissolution of council in the summer of 2017, the project lost ground. The seniors housing grant was contingent on an April 1, 2018 build. Plans were now on hold. 

NHHI quickly called a candidate’s meeting before the July election, providing a complete overview of the project to the candidates. 

After the election, NHHI met numerous times with the new council, reiterating the need to act quickly if the build was to happen in time.

For this new council, the project felt altogether overwhelming.

“I don’t know too much about prior council’s decisions,” says Ewen. “Essentially, the NHHI project offered a great presentation and a great project. [But] it was in the millions of dollars [and was a] project that would just back up our debentures and restrict us from any future development other than this one project. This was just something that we couldn’t take on for the whole municipality, especially just one area. Maybe in the future we’ll be able to do something like that but us, as council, were not willing to risk all of that money on a [seniors housing] project that still costs the person to move in.”

NHHI was in shock. Come December 2017, as it became apparent that council stood firm on their decision, NHHI was compelled to give up the $780,000 grant.

“What that meant was that we had to disengage from the affordable housing initiative and the St. Adolphe community lost the 12 spots,” says Daman. “So we informed the province and they were profoundly disappointed… Those 12 spots have now been reallocated to other projects in the province and so they are gone.”

“[The seniors housing spots] have always been NHHI’s spots and originally the daycare spots were the Growing Minds spots,” says Ewen. “Does it concern me? I don’t know because I wasn’t a part of the initial deal, so I’m not too familiar with it.”

While the spots had in fact been awarded by the province to NHHI, Daman clarifies that the province awarded them on the condition that they be built in St. Adolphe, recognizing the growing need for seniors housing and daycare in this community.

“It was NHHI applying on behalf of the community of St. Adolphe, in cooperation with previous Ritchot councils, as no other group came forward to develop the site locally for seniors housing or daycare,” says Daman.

Future of Daycare
Although Ewen’s council had decided that the proposed facility, as a whole, was too great a risk, they weren’t willing to give up the 90 daycare spots NHHI was holding for them. 

They queried NHHI on the feasibility of utilizing their expertise in building only a daycare on the old PCH lot. But without the financial supports of the seniors housing and leased space, NHHI discouraged this route, calling it unsustainable.

A building such as this becomes an expensive venture due to the provincial building codes that come into effect when infant daycare is introduced. Also, the subsidies provided by the government aren’t enough to support the mortgage on a standalone facility. NHHI had seen this already in Niverville, and had been integrally involved in providing space for Growing Minds in the Heritage Centre, combining the daycare with a facility that had other revenue-generating components. Without this model, NHHI was no longer interested in being involved. 

The property of 420 Main Street has since been put on the market for sale.

MLA Bob Lagassé, a proponent of daycare in the community, called a meeting on February 20, desperate to make certain that the 90 spots wouldn’t be lost to St. Adolphe. Lagassé, Ewen, Daman, Neufeld, and provincial Minister of Families Scott Fielding were all in attendance. Fielding agreed to transfer the daycare spots out of NHHI’s hands and into Ritchot council’s, thus allowing council to proceed with finding a means to utilize these spots without NHHI’s oversight.

“One of the things I have heard overwhelmingly from my constituents, many of whom are families with young children, is that there is a real need for more daycare spaces,” says Lagassé. “To have the proposed spaces in St. Adolphe put in jeopardy was very concerning. As MLA, it was important to me that we did everything we could to find a way to meet the needs of families in our area. I’m glad to have helped find a way to make these daycare spaces a reality.”

Council will have to move quickly to find an appropriate space and licensed operator willing to take on the new daycare spots.

“April of 2019 is when we have to start digging,” says Ewen, citing the province’s withdrawal of the spots after that date. “That’s why we need to jump on this quickly, because it’s really not that far away.”

Ewen says council is in discussions about creating a taskforce to make this happen.

“We’re not sure who’s going to be on the taskforce,” Ewen says. “I definitely would like to be a part of it. I would like to see our economic development officer a part of it [as well as] a member or two from the daycare, our financial officer, and someone from the general public.”

As to the loss of the Main Street property, Ewen says, “I’m disappointed that it happened like this, because essentially we’d have to buy it back. Is that the only option? I could say yes, but we haven’t even started our taskforce [initiative].”

Ewen hopes that the same taskforce will also eventually work on a seniors housing initiative.

“We have initiated a taskforce committee on what the next step is for all of that stuff that should have been there. I don’t know what the future will hold with that.”

Time until next issue
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