Pinkard Navigates the Perfect Storm to Finish Kavod Senior Life

As a company that boasts both senior living and affordable housing projects as two of its specialties, Pinkard Construction had its expertise put to the ultimate test when it came to the occupied renovation of the Kavod Senior Life affordable housing complex in Denver.

Originally constructed in 1970, the 398-unit complex comprising one high-rise and two mid-rise structures had long aged out of modern building codes. The full scope included adding life safety systems to all apartments, as well as other various per-building and per-unit improvements.

“You have three super complex high-rise structures that are very difficult to understand, and you’re trying to retrofit them for sprinkler and fire-alarm systems,” construction manager Derek Stathis says of the job’s central challenge. “That’s a daunting proposition, especially considering the original building plans are hand drawn in the late ‘60s. You’re basically popping your head above the ceiling to understand how things work and why things were built the way they were. It was a massive undertaking.”

The aging structures’ many eccentricities would prove to be a repeated source of unexpected challenges for Pinkard to overcome..

“The buildings are so big and complex,” Stathis explains. “We would go to get inspections for the work we did, and the inspectors would find new problems that were way outside of our original scope. We’d research what it would take to fix those problems and eventually brought the whole place up to code.”

Beginning on November 2019, work began in the 143-unit West tower, where Pinkard made critical updates to the fire alarm and sprinklers, which involved asbestos abatement, along with upgrades to the kitchen and ADA access.

Then came March of 2020, when we all know what happened. As the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a halt, it appeared that the renovation might have to be abandoned. Instead, Pinkard sprung to action to devise a socially-distanced workplan that would continue construction in non-residential spaces with no contact to residents and staff, allowing them to complete half of the job’s scope by October 2020.

When the worst of the pandemic had passed, Pinkard returned to Kavod in June of 2021 to finish what it had started. Moving on to the 160-unit East building, the main job was renovating the bathroom in each unit. On top of the rigid measures required to protect Kavod’s vulnerable elderly residents, the thing that made the execution of this phase so incredible was the fact that Pinkard managed to do it without displacing residents for more than a week.

Working on seven units at a time, Pinkard completed each set of apartments within a seven-day window. Every Monday morning at 9 a.m., residents would be moved into one of Kavod’s temporary “hotel apartments,” after which Pinkard would immediately get to work on demolition and renovation, leaving time for each unit to pass inspections and then be fully sanitized before the residents returned home on Sunday evening..

“We had to have the entire job scheduled down to the hour,” says superintendent Ryan Haverland. “There were times when we’d only have a two-hour window to turn off the water and install plumbing fixtures, because the rest of the building was still occupied.”

“Missing those weekly deadlines was not an option,” adds Derek Stathis, “because if you did, you'd be displacing thirteen residents who were supposed to come home, plus thirteen more who are supposed to be moving out. So by the end of each Saturday, come hell or high water, you better be done.”

Things worked in a similar fashion when Pinkard moved on to the 96-unit South building, where, among other improvements, the team replaced the 1970s-era fan coil units with the same weekly cadence. What made this phase even trickier was that, as opposed to a relatively contained bathroom, the work had to be done in the middle of residents’ living rooms.

“You have to remember that these are people with long, full lives who’ve had to condense down to a one-bedroom apartment,” explains Haverland, “and so in many cases the rooms are packed, and all of their possessions and heirlooms are incredibly precious. We had to be so careful.”

One other aspect that Pinkard had to be mindful of is the fact that Kavod’s residents are predominantly Jewish—meaning that scheduling had to respect important Jewish holidays and customs—and about half of them only speak Russian.

“It’s not one of our typical job sites where you have a sign in English and Spanish,” says Haverland. “If we needed to gain access to a unit or communicate a message to residents, we'd have to notify the facility several days in advance in order for their translators to translate the message into Russian. Even the voice in the fire alarm had to be recorded in Russian.” 

Unexpected obstacles continued to plague the project all along the way, such as when $40,000 worth of faulty smoke detectors had to be refunded by the manufacturer, or the time they installed water pressure reducing valves throughout one of the towers, only to have to take them out again after the water department replaced the street water line. While most of the major work was done by the beginning of 2023, one final item—a missing shunt trip breaker in the elevator system—delayed final completion by eight months due to specialty part lead times. At long last, the Kavod Senior Life renovation was officially finished this past January.  

“From start to finish, it was the longest project in Pinkard history,” says Derek Stathis. “Most jobs have a very defined start date and a very defined end date. Here there were hundreds of substantial completions within one project. And week after week, month after month, we did not miss a commitment that we made to the ownership group and all the residents, which is just an amazing feat honestly.”