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Renos near for troubled Sidney seniors' facility that never opened

Oct 09 2012

Renovations will start within weeks on a seniors-care facility in Sidney that was built in 2009 but never opened its doors - testing the faith and finances of its investors.

The Bethel Community Baptist Church Care Centre includes a 41,300 square-foot church and multipurpose centre, and 81-bed seniors-care facility, all now vacant. It also has the Positive Path Early Learning child-care centre, which is operating.

The complex - to be renamed Sidney All Care Centre - was sold in July at the fire-sale price of $11.2 million, less than half the asking price in April 2010 of $23 million.

New owners Blake Mooney of Sidney and investor Cornelis Johannes Van Dongen of Kamloops have a year to accrue debt, and then must begin paying the $10-million mortgage on the Bethel building.

"I like a challenge," said Mooney, 52, who grew up in the Sidney area and was manager of Glengarry Hospital, a Vancouver Island Health Care facility in Fairfield until a month ago.

With a budget of $1 million, the new owners are scrambling to upgrade the seniors-care portion of the complex - to be called Sidney All Care Residence - in time to bid on a request for proposals to be issued by Vancouver Island Health Authority before the end of the year.

VIHA must replace at least 320 seniors-care beds at two aging facilities - Oak Bay Lodge in Oak Bay and Mount Tolmie Hospital in Saanich.

"We are planning to do anything to get residents into these beds," Mooney said. "Of course, a contract with VIHA is our primary goal, but if that doesn't come through, we have plans to provide private care or other types of services." That could include rehabilitation or specialized dementia care, he said.

Work to start this month includes upgrading the lounge and common rooms. In the next few weeks, the company plans to approach the Town of Sidney with plans to further develop the site.

The Bethel facility has a maximum capacity of 84 beds. Such facilities work better - as do profit margins - with about 150 beds, Mooney said.

Doubling the bed capacity would cost millions but could be done by converting the 17,000-square-foot church and multi-purpose centre space. The greatest hurdle, however, may be regaining the faith of the community.

When the Bethel building sold for $11.2 million, it was just enough to pay off a single lender, Accredit Mortgage Ltd., which held the first mortgage. As a result, about 100 investors have lost millions of dollars. Many of them are Vancouver Island seniors who invested hundreds of thousands of dollars each in the project.

The idea was to build a seniors-care facility that would pay for a new Baptist church. The facility was built on the expectation that a private operator would move in and run publicly funded seniors-care beds, but that didn't happen. Meanwhile, the church opened in 2009 and ran for about two years, but then closed its doors and was decommissioned.

A notice of civil claim was filed in B.C. Supreme Court in September 2011 on behalf of nine individuals and couples who invested $100,000 each and want that money back and more for damages. They claim they would not have invested in 2009 had the defendants revealed the project was in financial crisis.

The nine defendants include financial planner David Michaels, owner of now-defunct Michaels Wealth Management in Victoria; Patrick Lenihan of SCH Group, a Saanich-based development company; and Allan Kelly, an authorized agent of Bethel Care Society.

"Almost immediately after the plaintiffs invested their funds, the project experienced financial collapse," says the notice of claim.

The allegations have not been proven in court. The defendants deny the claims.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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