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Construction Could Begin This Fall On Apartment Complex Replacing ‘Jelly Bean’ Buildings

SAINT JOHN – The mixed-income apartment complex that will replace the demolished “Jelly Bean” buildings at the corner of Wellington Row and Union Street will set a new environmental and design standard for buildings in the uptown core, says the general manager of Saint John Non Profit Housing.

“It’s going to be a very innovative and attractive building that we hope other builders emulate in the future,” said Narinder Singh in an interview.

Acre Architects did the conceptual drawings that were made public last year, and the Saint John firm is now doing more detailed design work, determining things like how many units there will be and how they’ll be laid out in the building.

They’re also looking into how they can maximize the energy efficiency of the building, and considering how it could be constructed to meet the Passive House Standard, a design approach developed in Germany and Sweden in the 1990s to deliver large reductions in the energy used for heating and cooling buildings.

Key features of this kind of design are a compact building shape, high levels of insulation in exterior walls, roofs, and under foundations, and high-performance windows to minimize air leaks.

It’s so efficient you could almost heat it with a candle or your own body heat,” said Singh. “It’s super energy efficient and we hope we’re able to do it in this building.”

Singh says they have a mortgage broker looking at the financing options but things won’t be firmed up until they have detailed drawings and construction estimates for the complex, which he says could cost around $7-million to build.

The building will be a 50/50 mix of subsidized- and market-rent units with a commercial business on the ground floor. They are planning for 42 units, but “could go higher to make the numbers work” for the building.

Saint John Non Profit Housing is applying to the affordable rental housing program, jointly funded by the provincial and federal governments, to cover some of the cost of construction (as much as $900,000 could be made available to them, says Singh).

The organization will also apply for assistance from a new CMHC program for affordable housing projects.

Singh is confident they’ll receive funding assistance from these two programs, but he says the organization is well positioned to undertake these kinds of projects on its own.

“We do have the resources to do this,” he says. “We’re not an organization with our hand out thinking we need cash for our equity in order to develop the project. We have that now. We’ve already invested over $500,000 on that site of our own capital and we still have the capital to bring it forward.

“When we go to a bank to develop a building we’re not going out as an organization with no experience. We’ve done this before and we have the resources to bring it forward. We’ve never started a building like this that we haven’t completed.”

Singh says construction could begin by early fall of this year – the spring of 2020 at the latest – and the apartments ready for occupancy by the fall of next year. He says people will be impressed by the building that Acre ultimately designs.

“They spend a lot of time on the way the building fits into the urban fabric of the neighbourhood,” said Singh. “They care about the pedestrian traffic and how that building is going to live on that corner and how it’s going to affect the other buildings around it.”

Singh expects The Wellington, which is what it will be called, to be a success much like this the other properties and projects the organization undertakes. Saint John Non Profit Housing has other fully occupied buildings with waiting lists like the Admiral Beatty Complex and Leinster Court, another building project that was controversial at the time but turned to be a great success.

“It’s a mixed-income project,” said Singh of Leinster Court. “We have people who [pay market rents] and people who need affordable housing that live in harmony. It’s a great example of how things should be done. We want to replicate that in this building as well.

“We’re not just putting up a building. We want to do something that enhances the community, so we’re going the extra mile.”

Banner image: artist rendering of The Wellington (Image: Acre Architects)