When everything that could go wrong, does go wrong, we must acknowledge the lessons from that experience in order to learn from them. Such was the case when working with our amazing client Lifetime Networks – a special project that while unfortunately fraught with challenges, ended up forging a connection built on transparency and trust.
Lifetime Networks is an incredible local non-profit dedicated to facilitating lasting friendships and support for differently abled adults. A true grassroots organization, Lifetime was started by a group of five families who had adult children with developmental differences. With no network of care to support these young adults, their concerned parents banded together to change things for the people they love and to make a difference for others who were struggling with that same challenge. Today, Lifetime Networks is led by two caring individuals, Wendy-Sue Andrew, Executive Director and Carlene Thompson, Executive Finance Director.
The team at Lifetime Networks had purchased an older structure, a lifted house at 2553 Quadra St. to be their new office location in 2020. For far too long, the organization had been paying for multiple satellite locations to run their many programs. Lifetime Networks runs a mind-blowing breadth of programs on what is a comparatively small budget to help clients build necessary life skills and create meaningful connections within the community. For this reason, the group needed to fit a lot of different uses into a very small area. Space would be required not only for office staff, but also to accommodate clients’ different needs.
Solutions to maximize the space and functionality of the house included the addition of sliding barn doors that open to multi-purpose rooms – eliminating the swing doors reduces the clearance required. Clients can tuck away into different nooks to prepare for job opportunities, improve their literacy skills, or play board games to develop their social interactions. The bright and cheery teaching kitchen includes a grout-free glass backsplash, an easy-to-clean feature for those who are learning to cook, that is also on-brand orange – Wendy-Sue’s favourite colour.
Also in the kitchen, a long family-style dinner table invites clients and staff to sit down and enjoy a meal together, with a large TV that can be used for instructional videos.
When working with non-profit organizations, Ann Squires Ferguson, CEO & Senior Interior Designer at Western Design+Build, wants to see as many fundraising and grant dollars as possible go to supporting the end clients, believing that it is good practice for her team to learn how to do a beautiful job that is functional and durable on a shoe-string budget. “It’s a great design skill to have. And the clients really appreciate when we can value engineer every penny.”
One thing Ann has noticed over her 20 years in the business is that often not-for-profit clients have a construction budget to finance the build, but they don’t necessarily have the funds set aside for design.To remedy that, Western will submit a design proposal and if, following design, Western is selected to build the project, they credit 100% of the design fees towards the build costs. Clients are only out of pocket for design if the project does not proceed to construction. “This is another way we can invest in our community and lift up local not-for-profit partners like Lifetime Networks,” says Ann, “By crediting the value of the design towards their project build, their dollars go further and in turn support their own clientele.”
So, what’s the problem? What started out as a fairly simple project, albeit with a tight timeline, ended up being anything but. The condition of the older structure, a pandemic, and supply chain issues were the first few blows that extended the project well over a year. Every time a wall was opened, there was a new set of circumstances to deal with from structural challenges to building envelope issues.
On each occasion, the project needed to pause to bring in engineers to examine the site conditions and come up with a plan of action, a process which added weeks every time. Pricing adjustments would follow, and often, there would be delays getting the trades back to the site. COVID-19 presented additional challenges as multiple crews could not share the working area on the small scale job site.
Even so, Wendy-Sue shares,“When there were issues and things came up, Ann was very responsive and open to discussion to find mutual solutions which was helpful.” Ann is empathetic for clients new to the construction process and elaborates on the importance of being incredibly communicative, “It becomes an education process to explain to clients in a really loving way, “This happened because this happened, etc.” and walk them through to maintain clarity. It’s all about communication and managing expectations.”
Then came the perfect storm…. The final problem is one Ann confesses that she would love to hold and hide, but believes it is important to own your mistakes, share life’s lessons, and be better for it. When large construction projects begin, clients can be required to make a deposit to purchase materials. This money is kept in their trust account and applied to their trade deposit invoices. During the lengthy process of Lifetime’s office renovation, Western had a changeover to a new bookkeeping platform and a new bookkeeper. At the end of the project, Lifetime realized that their costs had gone well above budget. They brought it to Ann’s attention, who recognized their valid reason for concern and immediately brought in a third-party auditor.
“I was going through cancer treatment at the time, so I did not have the oversight that I usually do. Plus, we had new staff and software. It really was the perfect storm. It was crushing to me that here is this organization that lifts our community up in such a real way and we added stress to their lives.”
Ann continually tried running the numbers with chemo brain fog until it became clear that the $50,000 had gone into their trust account and then was never applied to their trade invoices.
“I have so much respect for Wendy Sue and Carlene because their response showed what kind of human beings they are,” says Ann. Despite the project’s many challenges, Wendy-Sue shares about the process, “It has to be reciprocal, open and communicative. There needs to be togetherness. And we felt that all the time. There was a lot of transparency.”
In the end, Lifetime Networks’ project finished with a productive project debrief and hugs all around, paired with a sincere apology, radiant flower bouquet and a cheque refunding the full deposit as well as 100% of their design fees.
After construction completed, the first event LifetimeNetworks hosted was the ‘ThinkLocal’ mixer, inviting friends, family and local businesses to enjoy the new space and familiarize themselves with the important work the association undertakes.
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An award-winning non-profit, Lifetime Networks is currently a nominee for the 2023 Chamber Community Builder of the Year Award, with the winner to be announced in May. We encourage you to learn more about the work this organization is doing in our community and volunteer, donate or participate in their annual Earth Day Clothes Drive April 22 or their annual Gala Dinner and Auction October 13 at the Delta Ocean Pointe. Please visit www.lifetimenetworks.org for more information.