INNISFAIL – Barb Lewis was enjoying her holidays on the morning of Aug. 31 when the call came.
The demolition of the 59-year-old Autumn Glen would begin in half an hour. Lewis called her maintenance worker to videotape the demolition. Later in the morning the video was sent to her.
“I sat at my kitchen table and watched it. I cried,” said Lewis, a devoted worker at the seniors’ residential facility since 1987, the last five as manager. “I’ve loved every bit of it.”
Later that day Lewis came to the site to view the demolition of the old facility, which would include the adjacent Poplar Grove Court. Both facilities will be completely demolished by the third week of October.
"Lots of memories in this old building and a lot of memories of residents who have lived here that have passed, and a lot of memories of good people who I worked with. Just good memories,” said Lewis while standing along a safety fence to view the demolition.
It was just seven weeks ago when Lewis was celebrating the opening of the new $24.2 million Autumn Grove residential facility, a long-awaited project local and area seniors’ advocates had spent several years lobbying to have built for Innisfail and area.
“Even though the new building is beautiful I don’t think anything can replace the hominess of this old building,” said Lewis, conceding the transition from the old to the new was not only inevitable but urgently needed.
“The residents needed a new building. The rooms in the old building were too small. They were the size of some people’s walk-in closets. Moving forward into our new building we are going to try to make it the same homey atmosphere as the old building.
“The new building is great for the residents, and my staff with more updated equipment,” she added. “All I can see is moving forward and making new memories in the new building.”
Compared to the old facility, Autumn Grove is a major step forward for the community and residents. The new three-story facility has more than 84,000 square feet of space, compared to 25,000 for Autumn Glen. The single suites for the new facility are almost 400 square feet, twice as large as most of the rooms in the old facility.
Autumn Grove features every possible amenity for today’s seniors, including a much larger dining area, a permanent hair salon, a spa room, and several communal rooms for activities, worship and recreation. The facility even has full-time homecare for clients who will no longer have to go to the nearby Innisfail hospital for personal assistance.
Autumn Grove is also equipped with the most up-to-date mechanical, heating, electrical and water systems, with full-time maintenance staff to ensure everything is running smoothly and safely for residents.
Looking into the future once the old facilities are completely demolished, a garage will be built on the former Autumn Glen site, along with a gazebo and a pond with a covered bridge, and walking paths. The Poplar Grove Court side will mainly be used for parking. However, the site’s future may also be used for the addition of a unit to provide higher levels of care, specifically for residents with advanced stages of dementia.
Connie Huelsman, board chair of the Parkland Foundation, said the transition from Autumn Glen to Autumn Grove is a “milestone” for the community, noting she had family members at the old facility three decades ago and renovations were needed even then.
“It’s part of our community but it’s also very nice to look forward to the future and have a new one,” said Huelsman, a driving force behind the Autumn Grove project.
She said discussions have already taken place at the board level for a higher level of care facility at Autumn Grove.
“We don’t have that right now in Innisfail. Even where the new building is, they still have to get around on their own,” she said, adding business plans have already been drawn up for a new higher level of care unit. “The board will have to discuss what we want to do, and how we go about it, same way we did last time.”