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Provincial funding denied for new seniors lodge

The current lodge was built in 1977 and is showing its age. While structurally sound at this point, there are signs of fatigue, including cracks in the walls.
Big Hill Lodge is crumbling and there’s no provincial relief funding in sight.

The Rocky View Foundation’s top priority – a new seniors’ housing facility to replace the crumbling Big Hill Lodge in Cochrane is going to have to wait at least until next year’s budget process, and the proponents are not happy with the bad news.

Rocky View Foundation CAO Chris Lowe said they were disappointed to hear the province had said no to their ask for funds to build a new lodge.

“We had hoped the province would have seen the need, and we understand that the program was overwhelmed with so many applications and only eight got approved,” he said. “However, that doesn't erase the need that that we have here.”

“The really important part to remember is the longer these types of projects are delayed it pushes everything one more year out and makes the pressing need to get the replacement even greater. So the next round of funding opens up this fall and that's what we've been told,” he said.

Coun. Susan Flowers, a member of the Foundation that’s responsible for getting a new building approved, said she was surprised, and doesn’t know what happened. Flowers believes they were seeking about $14 million towards the project.

All the paperwork requirements were seemingly in place, according to all of the major proponents.

The current lodge was built in 1977 and is showing its age. While structurally sound at this point, there are signs of fatigue, including cracks in the walls.

Airdrie-Cochrane MLA and Minister of Infrastructure Peter Guthrie has been advocating for the funding for years and helped arrange visits by several Alberta government ministers. Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services Jason Nixon was the last minister to visit the local lodge.

Guthrie was also very disappointed. He was open this week when asked about what might have gone wrong to result in the rejection.

“I don’t have an answer for you," he said, at a loss. "Very disappointed. We worked very hard with the Rocky Mountain Foundation, the mayor, myself . . . I felt we put our best foot forward."

“We had the minister here, we showed the need, and I felt very confident we were going to get through on this round," Guthrie added.

He said he heard from the Seniors department that demand for funding was very high across the province.

He was scheduled to meet with Genung this week to brainstorm some other ideas.

“I’m certainly not giving up,” he said.

Mayor Jeff Genung was also surprised by the news.

“I was quite shocked to hear we were not on the list of funded communities," he said. "I reached out to the minister, and his chief of staff – they really have no answer as to why."

He and Guthrie are pursuing a meeting with Minister Nixon to explore next steps.

Meanwhile Cochrane’s Big Hill Lodge is crumbling, and even the rooms that aren’t are so badly undersized that they wouldn’t meet today’s building codes.

Big Hill Lodge was originally constructed in 1977. The Lodge was expanded in 1982 and now accommodates 75 seniors. Since its initial construction, the standards of senior's facilities have changed.

The lodge had significant cracking and shifting back in 2020, making the need for a new building all the more imperative.

Last year engineers declared the building is still safe, but at some point it may not be.

The former CEO of the Foundation has said that applicants wanting to get in line for a room at the lodge are understandably reluctant to put their names forward.

“There’s some reluctance because of the state of the building, and the rooms that are only 180 square feet, with a five-by-six bathroom, they’re not accessible at all,” said Carol Borschneck, former CEO of the Rocky View Foundation.

It’s a reluctance common to any facility, as the pandemic hit long-term care facilities and other types of seniors homes hard.

The preferred location of a new lodge has been identified by the Town – the lot behind the Lions Club Event Centre on Fifth Avenue.

Under the best-case scenario, the doors to a new lodge could theoretically be opened to residents about two years’ after receiving funding.


Howard May

About the Author: Howard May

Howard was a journalist with the Calgary Herald and with the Abbotsford Times in BC, where he won a BC/Yukon Community Newspaper Association award for best outdoor writing.
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