Bedroom and playroom sit unused after home for young parents struggles with ongoing renovation woes

highbanks-livingroom-reno-thumbHighbanks Society, a non-profit organization that provides housing and support for young mothers, began its extensive renovation March 2010.

“The projection was to have the reno finished in nine to 12 months, but it ended up taking two years, with the re-forecasted end date in March,” Highbanks executive director Cecilai de la Rocha said.

The West Hillhurst-based organization underwent renovations to provide needed playspace for children living in the building and office space for employees. As well, an additional housing unit for another family was needed.

Delays were an issue, though, as the original structure was built in the 1950s and needed to be brought up to current building code before renovations could begin.

These complications were unexpected when initial planning was done, but things have remained on budget and the project has remained within the original parameters de la Rocha said.

The renovation provided an additional 1600 sq. ft. of facility space to the existing 5023 sq. ft. building.

Included in the expansion is one additional self-contained unit, renovation of existing one-bedroom units to add an additional bedroom, addition of a roof-top garden, provision of private office space, increased community space, increased building security, additional basement playroom and increased resident storage.


Cecilia de la Rocha, executive director, and Bette Mitchell, founder, lend a helping hand in the initial stages of the renovation.

Photo by: Jessica BartschBeyond complications with the projected finish date of early 2012, the Highbanks Society has also faced issues with projects that have been completed.

The additional self-contained unit is still awaiting a tenant, as the unit is not up to spec with fire safety standards. The newly renovated basement playroom is also sitting vacant, without a window, and therefore it is also not legally usable.

“It’s really unfortunate, we were told by the city this past week that we can not use the playroom because there isn’t a window,” community coordinator Stephanie Schoenberg said.

After receiving that unfortunate news, Highbanks immediately went into solution mode.

“We’ve decided to reopen reno for the time being and dig a hole in the ground large enough for a window to fit nicely at the top of the playroom,” Schoenberg said.

The initial renovation was initially funded by an anonymous donor and the Government funded the project of Alberta Community Facility Enhancement Program.

Highbanks also received donations and used some of their casino funds. The additional completions to the project will likely come from these sources and may seek help from Rick Lewis at Gibbs Gage Architects.

Highbanks was partnered with Gibbs Gage Architects to obtain their development permit. Rick Lewis, a board member and the director of housing at Highbanks, as well as a partner at Gibbs Gage, was involved in development of the renovation since its inception.

“I knew the founder personally and have been involved with Highbanks since the beginning and then once it was decided to start renovating I volunteered my time and helped with the planning as much as I could,” Lewis said.

De la Rocha, Schoenberg and Lewis would not comment on who was fundamentally liable for miscalculations with the renovation but everyone involved, down to the volunteers, are coming together and moving forward for the sake of Highbanks.

At this time, the projection on the completion of the remaining unused space is still being negotiated.

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