When coming up with a name for the Barr's Motel conversion project on Essa Road, a few ideas were bounced around.
One idea stood out among the rest.
“The folks at the Busby Centre got together and came up with a couple of ideas,” said Tim Kent, co-owner of Redwood Park Communities. “One of the suggestions was Lucy’s Place.”
Lucy was a well-known fixture of the local homeless community. While she used to sleep in an alcove behind the Collier Street Parkade, once a fence was erected around the space she was forced to move on. Two weeks after the fence was raised back in 2014, Lucy was found dead near the public washrooms at Heritage Park.
The story of Lucy’s death sent waves through the community and pulled back the curtain on the issue of homelessness in Simcoe County.
“Lucy was such a prominent member of not just the homeless community, but the community as a whole,” said Kent. “She developed many relationships with a lot of different individuals who cared for her and wanted to help.
“At the end of the day, everybody really felt that was a perfect name for this place because it really brings it back to the reality that, these are our community members,” he added. “These are our friends, family, mothers, fathers and our youth that are part of our community but might be going through really hard times.”
Redwood Park Communities, in a project where they’ve partnered with the David Busby Centre, the City of Barrie and the County of Simcoe, broke ground last summer on the site at 170 Essa Rd. They’ve been converting the 12 rooms into adopt-a-unit, standalone, bachelor-sized affordable housing apartments.
According to Kent, the Busby Centre is going through the process of selecting residents for the rooms.
While Kent says he had hoped the renovations on the motel would be completed by December, a few unexpected surprises got in the way of that goal.
“Originally, we wanted to try to have it open before Christmas, but it just wasn’t going to happen,” said Kent. “It’s like any other construction project — it never goes as quickly as you want it.”
Kent says one of the major unexpected issues the project ran into was the discovery of large amounts of asbestos in the units.
“When we reviewed the building, we felt confident we wouldn’t have any asbestos issues, but once we got in to taking it apart, there were pockets of it that we found," he said.
Kent says the construction team found asbestos in places that indicate it was added during renovations the property has seen over the years, including in some flooring tiles, bathroom fixtures, exterior stucco and some paint.
“It was in some units, but not others,” he said. “It was really weird. (Normally) you don’t get that.”
Due to the discovery, Redwood had to bring in a consultant to take test samples before construction could proceed, which has now delayed the opening date.
Kent recently said the construction was at the drywall phase.
“The exterior stonework is done. The siding is still going on. The entire back is finished. The exterior is really coming along,” he said. “We’re expecting that occupancy in these units will start mid-February."
As of the end of January, Kent says six of the rooms have confirmed sponsors and two have tentative sponsors, meaning four rooms are still available to be sponsored through the program.
“We’re also looking for a sponsor for the main community space,” said Kent. “We’re still very interested and very hopeful that more community groups will get involved.”
Sponsorship of a unit comes with a $40,000 price tag and a five-year commitment to help maintain the space.
Once the building is completed and tenants move in, Redwood will manage the facility and collect partially subsidized rent. With the subsidies Redwood has secured, tenants will be required to pay about $300 a month to live in the units.
For more information or to contribute to the project, click here.