PUNXSUTAWNEY — It was a celebration — albeit a small one — as the first anniversary of the opening of Grace Place Apartments at the corner of Pine and North Gilpin streets took place Friday.
The income-based apartment complex officially opened for business Dec. 16, 2011, as the ribbon was cut by a host of dignitaries on that cold December day.
The Rev. Tim Spence, interim director of the Jefferson Area Lutheran Social Ministry (JALSM), a non-profit, church-related organization formed in 2007 to address the housing shortage for moderate-income seniors in Punxsutawney and other regional and surrounding communities, constructed the apartment complex in partnership with TREK Development of Pittsburgh.
"We were fortunate to have a good architect and contractor watching out for problems, and taking care of them before they became problems," he said.
"There are some things that we will never be able to to do again, like the solar energy panels because of the way funding streams have changed," Spence said, adding that the individual controls for heat and air conditioning will be a standard piece in all of the projects.
Kathy Stamler, Grace Place manager, said due to the solar energy panels, the electric bill for some of the apartments has been as low as $20 per month.
"I would say about one third of the apartments have electric bills at approximately $20 per month," she said.
Spence said the one week when there was a power outage, Grace Place residents still had limited power because the solar energy was pumping into the building.
"The lights were dim in some places, but the refrigerator and furnace were still running," he said.
Spence said that Grace Place is much more than an apartment complex; it is a community where all of the residents look out for each other.
"It's a community of people looking out and caring for each other, which we intended to happen,” he said.
According to Spence, during the summer there were 15 to 17 tenants sitting out on the porch almost every night, visiting and talking.
"They call that 'porch time' which has now moved into 'parlor time' during the winter months," he said.
Stamler said the tenants also held a Christmas and New Year’s Eve party, staying up until midnight to ring in the new year.
Spence said the tenants really do watch out for each other.
For example, if one tenant isn't feeling well, a neighbor will knock on his or her door with a bowl of soup to help through that tough time.
Tenant Faye Taylor said she wouldn’t trade living at Grace Place for anywhere.
“What I love about living at Grace Place is the safety and how we all check on each other,” said Sue Shiock, another tenant.
As for tenant Avanelle Berringer, she likes being located close to downtown.
Stamler said that every apartment has been rented since last July.
Doris Pifer and Alice Morris were the first two residents to move into the apartment complex right after the ribbon cutting.
Currently, there are 21 female and three male tenants.
"The girls kind of have the advantage over the guys for the moment," Stamler said.
She said that those who are interested in living at Grace Place can call 938-3008 to be placed on the waiting list.
Spence said JALSM is currently developing Grace Place Apartments for Reynoldsville.
He said it will be similar to the Punxsy apartments, but it will be smaller, as there will be 15 units instead of 24.
“The Tionesta Grace Place will be located on a 12 acre-site and will have cottages instead of apartments," Spence said, adding that JALSM hopes to have eight of the cottages under construction later this year.
He said the cottages will have a lower eligibility age — 55 instead of 62 — and the income guidelines will be more relaxed.
"The planning process for each project takes anywhere from three to five years," he said. "Once the financing comes through, based on the design and the financial planning, the construction phase is actually the shortest.”
Spence said there are projects that are under development by JALSM in the Knox and Oil City areas.
"There's no doubt that the first year of Grace Place in Punxsy has been a huge success," he said.