FEATURE CONDO COVER STORY

TYANDAGA MEWS

By Don Graves, Pres. HCC #32, Board Member CCI GHC

The Mews was designed and built in 1976. The 76 units, divided into 11 smaller sub-units is situated in a park-like setting with a ravine to the west and panoramic views of Lake Ontario and downtown Burlington to the south. Close enough for convenience and hidden away for refuge the "Mews" has matured into a 30 year old community among the trees. There are three original owners still there and one of them served on the Board for eighteen years. It sounds idyllic but while the trees and gardens matured with the grace and beauty expected of nature, the 76 units began to look tired and signs of trouble emerged in the late 1990's.

By late 2002 it was apparent that Tyandaga Mews needed new siding, eaves troughs, downspouts, facia, front door units with sidelight, garage doors, exterior unit lighting, and sliding patio doors at a cost in excess of $700,000.

As the scope of the work sunk in, the Board chose first to examine itself, how it worked, the people it worked with and how the owners perceived them. They discovered a lot. A history of hands-on management by the Board needed to change. The Mews needed a Management Company that could not only provide sound operational management and accurate accounting, but could also provide innovative planning advice. A professional reserve fund study was mandatory, one that could provide a number of carefully researched options for restoration.. The Board itself needed to adopt a planning stance with coherent long-term strategies, and develop principles that served the diverse wishes of the community. And at the heart of it all, the Board needed a clear and consistent communication policy. If that was not a sufficiently daunting agenda for a volunteer Board, they also needed to respond to the demands of the new Condo Act, develop a long range landscaping and arbor care plan, address the fears about skyrocketing condo fees and special assessments, and carry on with the parts of the renovation that were being phased in. (such as balcony replacement, shingles and flat garage roofs.)

To achieve these goals the Board adopted the position that it would act in the long-term interest of all the owners. That meant three things: assess, plan and communicate.

Assess:
The first task was to assess the here and now. That meant new management that would focus on communication, sound business practices and innovative solutions. The Board was determined to hire the right people to manage, stop micro-managing and dedicate themselves to planning. We found the Company and the manager we needed.

Plan:
The second task began with research which meant an exhaustive reserve fund study with options for owners to consider. We reviewed the market and based our decision on a company with a proven track record of connecting research to action. How should the restoration be done? A phased in approach? A special assessment for one large project? A 10 year loan to be repaid from the reserve fund? A combination of choices? The study gave us a clear picture of the need. It gave us options that considered quality, price, maintenance and warranty. The next step was how to pay for it. The biggest hurdle was how to put quality, maintenance and price into one plan we could afford, one that the owners could live with. We made the case for vinyl siding, steel insulated doors and sliding doors with better security. The data was there and the choice was clear. Would we pay for it by special assessment or loan? The Board listened to owner opinion and considered the economic profile of the community. A 10 year loan will allow us to pay as we benefited from the restoration without each of us writing a big, special assessment cheque. Since our project had a long life expectancy of more than twenty years we could afford to amortize it over 10 years. And we could estimate our condo fees over the 10 year period with healthy reserve fund balances as we went. Throughout the entire planning process we remembered that we lived in a complex that won a national design award in 1976 and that our biggest neighbour was nature. We would be looking at our work for the next 20 years: curb appeal, integration with nature and a sense of community was an essential priority. We again searched for the best and hired Gardwood-Jones & Hanham Architects. Their plan became our map. Noted architect, Trevor Garwood-Jones shared his vision with us, in our Centre on the hottest night of the summer to a full house and applause. We now had quality,affordability and design. What was left?

Communication:
Communication is the element that ties it all together. We are 76 owners leading 24 hour lives. Each phase of the plan, assessment, research, the financing and design had to be communicated to the owners. The message had to get out many times in different ways. Concerns, challenges and fears would require clear and sensitive answers. Seventy-six owners had a right to understand. And we are planning to balance the need of a condo complex to have a unified look with owner preference for individuality by providing a list of owner pay options.

Starting in late March, 2005, the Mews will be a busy mess. Parking will be disrupted. Gardeners will be standing guard. Board members will be praying for warm, dry weather. And Sandy Foulds, our PM, may acquire her first grey hairs. And when it is all finished we'll celebrate the beautifully restored Tyandaga Mews, the site that real estate agents call the best kept secret in Burlington.


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Last Updated by Steve Warner on January 8, 2005