When it opened in 1970, Ebenezer Tower Apartments was a modern marvel: the first senior high-rise building in Minneapolis. Now, following a top-to-toe remodeling, the building is new once again.
A Unique Housing Asset for Minneapolis
Located in the Midtown neighborhood, Ebenezer Towers Apartments remains one of the city’s few affordable senior housing offerings. Aided by funding from the City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County and the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, Ebenezer recently completed a comprehensive renovation addressing safety, accessibility, function, aesthetics and comfort.
Performed over a 12-month schedule as the building remained fully occupied, the project provided common area improvements including a remodeled lobby, complete modernization to the two existing elevators, an addition of a second laundry room on the 20th floor and renovation of the 23rd floor community room, with its stunning views of downtown Minneapolis.
Other improvements include upgraded electrical systems, new boilers and new water heaters. Sprinklers and a fire protection system were installed; and, for the first time, air conditioning in all the apartments.
Each of the 192 resident apartments was renovated in varying degrees, with updates including new cabinets and kitchen appliances, new bathroom shower surrounds, new toilet fixtures, new vinyl and carpeting and new electrical. Each apartment renovation was custom designed by Blumentals Architecture. Additionally, 10 units were converted to be ADA compliant.
Working in Someone Else’s Home
The priority throughout the project was minimizing disruption and maintaining comfort for residents, who range in age from 50 to 98, say Ebenezer staff.
“One thing that we all took to heart was remembering that, this was our residents’ home and they had to live through this 24 hours a day; staff were able to leave at the end of day. That was a mantra throughout the process,” said Joanie Lennick-Goulart, housing manager for Ebenezer Tower Apartments.
“(KA Project Manager) Lyn Ringold developed an amazing color-coded spreadsheet schedule for the residents and the staff so we knew what was going on so we could communicate with the residents,”said Peggy Schulte, assistant housing manager for Ebenezer Tower Apartments. “Each day we would knock on doors and let residents know the schedule, face-to-face with a staff member,” said Lennick-Goulart.
“We started two units a day every day, and would spend three days in each unit,” said Jerry Rasmussen, KA superintendent. With four or five apartment units under construction at any given day, residents were required to be out of their apartment from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., but were able to return and sleep in their own beds. The Ebenezer staff created a homey touchdown space in one of the larger ADA apartments for the comfort and convenience of displaced residents, stocked with a computer, TV, big comfy sofas, frozen meals, snacks, pet supplies, and crates for pets; plus survival kits with coupons, puzzles and pastimes.
Construction proceeded from the top floors down, scheduled to minimize disruption. The lobby was done in two phases– north and south. During the renovation of common spaces the team worked creatively to keep other spaces open so that events could run as scheduled. Among the biggest challenges was the renovation of the two elevators that serve the building. One elevator remained in service while the other was being worked on, for a period of three months each elevator- six months in all.
Taking the Stairs
“We tried to minimize the inconvenience as much as possible,” said Schulte. “Jerry would schedule deliveries for times when the elevator wasn’t as busy; Jerry and Lyn and our staff were all taking the stairs. We were all in much better shape by the time we were done,” Schulte said.
As contractor-in-residence through those months, the KA team formed a bond not only with Ebenezer, but with the residents.
“Everyone would refer to Jerry as ‘My Jerry,’” said Lennick-Goulart. “He and Lyn added a personal touch that we didn’t realize we needed. It was a really important piece and I’m not sure how we could have done it without them,” Schulte said.
“On one occasion, Jerry even brought in a family member to translate for a resident who speaks Vietnamese and very little English,” Schulte said.
The renovation has been warmly embraced by residents, staff and visitors.
“People who’ve not been here for a long time come in and say, this is a completely new building, we can’t believe it is the same space…Everyone sits in the lobby. Our residents seem to be sitting taller, more proud,” said Lennick-Goulart. “Spaces that had been unused, our fitness center, our new media room, new library–people are always there.
The basement is a walkout access to the updated courtyard, now handicap accessible with walking paths and beautiful landscaping. The spiritual center is now enclosed, with a custom stained glass window; a beautiful space for people to have a quiet time, prayers of remembrance services, Sunday services.
“We feel extremely lucky to be able to work in this building” Schulte and Lennick-Goulart agree.