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Construct Canada considers the value of adaptive reuse versus demolition

Building is always harder than destroying, but rebuilding may be harder still.

According to Carl Blanchaer, principal architect at WZMH, though it may be tempting for developers and other investors to tear down and start fresh, rebuilding, in the form known as adaptive re-use, may be the best bet for all concerned.

He gave his talk at the recent Construct Canada conference at the Metro Convention Centre, trying to convince builders, developers and others in the trades to think twice before knocking down.

One of the main examples he used were two projects he and his firm worked on in Toronto, 111 Richmond Street and 222 Jarvis.

With its brutalist style, the latter -- the Ontario government building formerly known as the Sears Building -- was not an obvious candidate for reclamation. But with every developer looking to at least appear green, nothing says “sustainable” like not wasting building material, or the carbon needed to demolish.

"The project has become a flagship for government initiatives in the use of sustainable building and planning approaches in the reconstruction of downtown office buildings," says the WZMH site, "and a catalyst for neighbourhood revitalization."

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Carl Blanchaer

Bixi is dead. Long live Bixi

Despite its fatal business model, Bixi will survive, but it won’t be Bixi anymore.

The city has decided to take it over, handing the management of the troubled Montreal-based bike-sharing program to the Toronto Parking Authority until they can find a suitable management company with expertise in this area.

"One of the primary reasons Bixi is having trouble in Toronto is their business model was based on covering both the capital costs and the operating costs from operating revenue," says Daniel Egan, the city’s manager of cycling infrastructure. "It became pretty clear after a year that it wasn’t feasible."

As of Dec. 2, Bixi no is no longer connected to its parent company, and is wholly owned by the City of Toronto, which assumed its costs. The Parking Authority will run it until April when it hopes to have found a new manager, and when it will likely take a new name.

There is still a plan to expand the system by 22 stations net year, though moving north of Bloor is unlikely.

The handover is being funded, oddly, with $5 million that would have gone to paying for several public toilets pledged by a city media partner. This will cover a $3.6-million capital loan, with the extra $1.4 million being used for interim operating costs, and to contribute to a reserve fund that will pay for capital costs. The fund will also receive $70,000 annually from the city's transportation budget, and will be a recipient of so-called Section 37 money gathered by the city from property developers to fund city projects in the public interest.

Though Egan believes the program can be run better than it has been, he does not believe it can ever be profitable. "The goal is to break even," he says. "There's no illusion that it’s a money-maker. But we’re looking to make this program sustainable in the long term."

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Daniel Egan

Big landlords, tenants near four-year green target two years early

It turns out when you ask the business community to cut their energy use, and they find out that it also saves them money, they go green like gangbusters.

Civic Action announced last week that the Race to Reduce, a voluntary campaign among Toronto’s commercial landlords and their clients to shave their energy use by 10 per cent in four years, was two years ahead of schedule, with consumption to the end of 2012 - figures that have just been compiled and analyzed -- down nine per cent ahead of their end-of-2014 schedule.

Brad Henderson, a senior managing regional director for CBRE and Race co-chair, is proud of what they’ve been able to collectively do so far.

"There was a lot of heavy lifting in the early days," he says. "We needed to establish process, we needed to get consensus on how information on energy reduction would be collected, measures and reported.  We also determined that it was important to collect and document case studies and tools used by participants as a way to help accelerate achievement by other companies.  While this work has been completed, there is a lot more work to be done."

The fact that they were able to do as much as they were is largely attributable to the fact that in the first few years of what's expected to be an ongoing program, Race participants were mostly large landlords and large tenants with, Henderson says, "considerable resources to mount significant energy reduction programs."

Programs included switching to LED lamps, converting to 100 per cent daytime cleaning to reduce lights used after hours, and decommissioning inefficient transformers.

(The Commercial Building Energy Leadership Council, made up of landlords and tenants representing 175 buildings and 67 million square feet, set their own reduction goals.)

The big challenge now, Henderson says, is that they've started recruiting smaller players. "As a result," he says, "achieving success of energy reduction will get harder and harder. Notwithstanding, the Race to Reduce participants are dedicated to persevere."

The Council is scheduled to set its new goals in January.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Brad Henderson

Spurred by new committee members, city reminds residents of property tax relief

City Hall sent out a press release last week that sounded like it might be big news. If you’re renovating your home, and can’t reasonably use it for at least three months, you don’t have to pay property tax on it.

Sounds like a good deal.

But it's also an old deal.

"This provision has always been there," says Casey Brendon, the city's director of revenue services. And by always, he means since way back before amalgamation.

So why the press release?

"It's partially related to the fact that these applications are heard routinely by the government management committee, which has had at least two changes in chairs," he says, "and we had these new councillors coming in, saying 'I didn’t realize there was a process where we did this. Is the public appropriately aware of this program?'"

So working on the assumption that if the councillors didn't know about it, there's a good chance the public didn't either, they decided to make some noise about it.

So, if this is news to you, and you have a property, residential or otherwise, that you're not going to be able to use for the purpose for which it is intended for at least three months, you may want to look into it.

And if you knew all about this already, well, you may want to have a word with your councillor about keeping up on the news.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Casey Brendon
Photo: B. Sutherland

Dufferin Bridge is gone

Just before 1:30 on Monday morning, the 101-year-old Dufferin Bridge ceased to be. After alarming inspectors enough with its pendulous concrete to order an immediate closure in June, the bridge over the GO Transit railway line ended up proving a little more stalwart than city workers expected.

"A couple of things surprised us, given the age of the structure," says Michael d'Andrea, the city's executive director for engineering and construction services. "The concrete was much harder, and adhered to the girders far better than we could ever have envisioned, … and the physical connection between these very large steel beams and the girders were in much better shape than expected."

He made clear that this does not mean they tore the thing down when they didn't have to. "We were surprised by how strong the concrete was in some areas, but in other areas, it was pretty weak."

The result was 48 hours of round-the-clock destruction, using 12-hour shifts of 15-20 workers, and another 15-20 engineers, general contractors and GO and Metrolinx advisors. It took two cranes, seven Bobcats, nine jackhappmers and five trucks running continuously to haul away the 1,000 tonnes of concrete, 120 tonnes of asphalt, and 100-150 tonnes of steel. D'Andrea says more than 90 per cent of all that will be recycled.

Within the next week or 10 days, a temporary pedestrian bridge will be erected, and by early 2014 there will be two temporary vehicle bridges joining it, all of which will be replaced by permanent structures by 2016 and should – assuming we’re at least as good at our jobs as our great grandparents -- last till about 2117.

Writer: Bert Archer
Sources: Michael d’Andrea, Jodie Atkins

Ryerson sets up new urban economic analysis centre

According to David Amborski, Toronto could stand to look a little more closely at what it's doing.

"One of the things that often seems to be missing is economic analysis of urban policies."

Amborski, a professor at Ryerson's School of Urban and Regional Planning, is heading up a new research operation, the Centre for Urban Research and Land Development (CURLD), at Ryerson whose mission it is to tease out the economic implications of the decisions being made at Queen's Park and City Hall, with the hope that their papers will not only contribute to the general debate, but will occasionally land on the desk of some decision-making desks.

The centre is part of the Faculty of Community Services.

"One example I often point out: When the Greenbelt was put in place, they figured it wouldn't have an effect on property prices," Amborski says. "But as every economist knows, you can't effect supply without also affecting price. It’s not that we would have changed the Greenbelt policy but we could have done some things to mitigate the price impacts."

A more recent example was the talks a few years ago about dramatically increasing development charges. At the time, Amborski says, though it would have worked and improved revenue for projects in the downtown core, it would have seriously hampered development along current and future transit lines as described by Mayor Miller's Transit City plan.

The plan is for the centre to conduct seminars, hold public debates, and put out calls for proposals to do work related to various topics of compelling interest.

"We're looking to be part of the city-building initiative," Amborski says, "part of that base that provides information for decision making."

Though they’re still getting settled in at Ryerson and don't have any official areas of focus yet, Amborski did say that one likely area of study would be how to get the most out of Section 37, the regulation that ensures money flows from developers into areas of communal interest, such as park-making and public art.

"Some of the issues involve the way it's determined, who negotiates it," Amborski says. "Ward councillors have a major hand in it now. Can there be a more transparent approach? Can we be sure the money collected is being used in the best interests of the community involved?"

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: David Amborski

Chief Planner talks suburban mobility

At Monday’s meeting of the Chief Planner’s Roundtable, consultant Jane Farrow announced to the 200 attendees that 60 per cent of the people living in eight so-called tower neighbourhoods in the inner suburbs do not have drivers' licenses.
This is big news.

These suburbs, built at a time when cars seemed the natural tools for urban expansion, are no longer inhabited by car people. They are, in fact, decreasingly suburbs at all, but rather less dense cities of their own, and as Vaughan and Markham, among others, seek to redress the change in various ways, the Chief Planner’s Roundtable is looking into how people do, can and should move around.

"A tremendous number of them walk," Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat says, "even when walking conditions aren’t that good."

So one of the ways Keesmaat would like to address that is by studying how and where people are getting around now, and adapting the now outmoded infrastructure to accommodate them.

Some aspects of this could be relatively easy, like making sure paths are shoveled, taking down fences that obstruct natural routes, and keeping them well lit after dark. But there are more profound ways to address the issue as well.

"It's about how we can re-adapt very suburban, car-oriented environments," Keesmaat says, "by getting a much finer street network, and adding development parcels, recognizing the importance of land-use planning and infrastructure changes in order to increase the options."

In other words, as these suburbs expand, they expand with these more reasonable, responsive forms of transportation and mobility in mind.

By the end of the roundtable, which was open to the public but attended mostly by those in related professions, they came up with a list of seven things that, Keesmaat says, need to happen now, including improving the walking infrastructure where people walk already, ensuring walking and cycling infrastructure links up with transit, improving data collection so future decisions can be made on solid ground, improving signage, loosening land-use controls to allow for more organic change as it is warranted, develop to allow people to live closer to where they work, and encourage individual "champions" to get behind significant infrastructure investments in these suburbans and push them through.

Video records of this and previous roundtables are available on the chief planner’s website.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Jennifer Keesmaat

Toronto's heritage plan wins award

The city’s approach to heritage conservation has won it recognition from the Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals.

Guided by the planning department, in concert with a consortium headed by Taylor Hazel Architects, the city's policy, as embodied by a new amendment to the Official Plan, tries to treat heritage in a broader way than usual.

"We identify that conserving heritage buildings is not just a physical act," says Scott Barrett, the city's senior coordinator for heritage preservation services. They concentrate, he says, "on why it's important, on heritage values. They're not just an assemblage of buildings; they create a sense of place, places people can experience."

This is best exemplified in the city's Heritage District initiative, which looks into preserving entire neighbourhoods, rather than individual buildings.

"It's a significant change to our old policy," Barrett says.

The new approach calls for, among other things, archeological finds to "remain in place where possible," Barrett says, but according to the city's supervisor of archeology, Susan Hughes, "possible" is a frangible term.

Sometimes it works, like with the Norr Architects project for HK Hotels at Exhibition Place, where the remains of some barracks from the War of 1812 are being preserved where they lie, under glass. For the oldest house in the old City of York, the foundations for which were destroyed in the construction of the building that will house the Globe and Mail, or the remains of the 1830s Bishops Block, discovered then destroyed in the building of the Shangri-La Hotel, not so much.

In both instances, according to Hughes, it would have been "prohibitively costly" for the developers to incorporate the archeological finds into their new buildings.

But as the new and now award-winning amendment takes root, both Hughes and Barrett hope that more and better preservation of significant aspects of the city's history, early and recent, will be possible.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Scott Barrett, Susan Hughes

Three Toronto proposals make shortlist for Ottawa Holocaust memorial

Three of six finalists in the competition to design Canada's Holocaust monument in Ottawa are from Toronto.
The shortlist was announced last week, and among entries from Vancouver, Montreal and Massachusetts are proposals from Quadrangle Architects, as well as teams led by museum planner Gail Lord and art historian and curator Irene Szylinger. There were 74 submissions in total.
The monument, in whatever form it takes, will be going up at the corner of Booth and Wellington streets, near the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
The Toronto finalists were forbidden from talking to the media about their designs, but the ministries of Canadian Heritage and Foreign Affairs did release the names of all the members of each team. Szylinger’s team includes artists and architect Ron Arad, and Lord’s includes architect Daniel Libeskind and photographer Edward Burtynsky.
The shortlist was decided by a jury of art and design professionals, someone from the National Holocaust Monument Development Council, and a Holocaust survivor.

The winning design for the $8-million monument will be announced next winter. Len Westerberg, a spokesman for Canadian Heritage, says there will be a public exhibition of the finalists before the winner is announced.
Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Len Westerberg

Beach rebrands its BIA

Just when we we're getting used to calling the Beaches the Beach, the association of businesses that contributes to the upkeep of the commercial strip in the Beach has rebranded itself to reflect the changing nature of the neighbourhood.

All of the business improvement area’s official signage and other materials will now refer to the area as the Beach Village.

"The Beach Village was launched to create a distinct identity for the business and shopping district along Queen Street East," says Elise Felton, Beach Village’s co-ordinator.

"This brand refresh was not done on a whim. We partnered with … Top Drawer Creative, an ad agency here on Queen Street East. Top Drawer conducted in-depth research, including interviews and surveys with focus groups made up of both BIA members and Beach residents. The Beach as a neighbourhood offers several attractions and shopping areas.  We want to encourage residents to rediscover what’s available in the Beach Village - in the heart of The Beach."

The Beach Village Business Improvement Area, or BIA, is the longest in Toronto, spanning 23 blocks. It has an annual budget of $230,000, and its membership includes just under 350 businesses.

"Our members will benefit from a refreshed look and feel on the street with banners and transit shelter ads," says Felton, "the marketing campaign that will extend into 2014 increasing promotions and visibility to the area. The re-branding campaign is intended to get people talking about our area and to get them shopping on Queen Street East again. People will be able to identify the businesses along Queen Street East as a must go-to destination for all their needs."

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Elise Felton

City launches Heritage Conservation District blog

The city put up a blog last week that will let us keep track of how its so-called Heritage Conservation Districts (HCDs) are coming along.
Maintained by the city’s Heritage Preservation Services (HPS), part of the Planning Division, the blog provides background information as well as updates on the five parts of the city currently under consideration for the designation, covering about 2,000 properties.
The districts are King and Spadina, “historic” Yonge Street, the Garden District (a fancy, newfangled name for the area between Allen Gardens and Moss Park), St. Lawrence and Queen Street East.
"The purpose of the HCD study is to determine if the area warrants designation as a HCD and to develop a full understanding of what makes it significant and a valued part of the city," says Scott Barrett, senior co-ordinator with the HPS, in the blog’s welcome post.

"The plan phase develops and implements policies and guidelines for conserving the valued character and sense of place that exists within the district, and to welcome the type of new development that fits in and benefits a HCD. A plan is adopted by bylaw when a district is designated."
The blog will also function as a public feedback tool.
Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Scott Barrett

U of T unveils plans for newfangled engineering building

The proposed Centre for Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship at U of T’s Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering was unveiled Oct. 29. According to one of its biggest proponents, it represents a great leap forward in the often retrogressive world of engineering education.

Designed by Montgomery Sisam Architects in Toronto and the UK’s Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, the new building -- estimated to cost considerably more than the $50 million already raised for it – is meant to encourage students to learn from each other as much as from the lecturers.

The 500-student auditorium will be the centrepiece as well as a model of how the school intends to conduct its teaching in this realm. Professor Emeritus Ron Venter, former chair of mechanical engineering and a consultant on the current project, explains.

"Normally the seats are next to each other, and the lecturer stands in front," he says. "We are trying to build the lecture theatre so it will still be tiered, but instead of the seats being one next to another in rows, the rows aren't there. What you've got are tables, a work surface with six students or four students being able to sit around, to discuss things in groups. You can lecture, but the group has a dynamic going on on its own. Then that group can interact with the lecturer. Everything is electronically connected, so if you've got a laptop on your table looking something up and find something that's pretty good that supports what the concept is of the lecture going on, you can, with the lecturer's approval, be beamed onto the Jumbotron at the front."

Another novel concept is the "alumni attractor" rooms, conceived as a place engineering alumni can hang out with current students, do some of their own work, and casually mentor the next generation.

If Venter’s optimistic timetable were followed, ground on the new building, to be put up next to Simcoe Hall on land that's currently a parking lot, would be broken next fall, with completion set for December, 2016.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Ron Venter

Ground broken for new Globe and Mail building

Construction has begun on the building that will house the new Globe and Mail offices, among others, on King Street East.

"We're now underway," says David Gerofsky, president of First Gulf, the commercial real estate arm of Great Gulf Homes, of which he's CEO. "Foundation, excavation and shoring will begin cirtually immediately, and it will be continuous construction for the next three years for completion in the spring of 2016."

The new 500,000 square foot glass tower, a curtain-wall construction, was designed by Diamond and Schmitt. There will be four levels of underground parking and a raised floor system that allows for the heating and ventilation system to be installed underfloor. A boon to Globe journos and possibly to smokers, there will also be 20,000 square feet of terraces.

The site contained the foundation of one of Toronto’s oldest houses, built in 1794, the year after the city was founded. Artefacts were found on the construction site, which Gerofsky says will become part of a display, possibly in the building's lobby.

The construction budget for the building is about $250 million.

Gerofsky says the buildings other major tenant has been signed and will be announced as early as this week.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: David Gerofsky

Long Branch gets new, low-priced condos

In a further sign that Long Branch may finally be coming into its residential own, Minto has submitted an application to turn a former industrial site into a low-priced condo.

Minto Long Branch is proposed for the 11.81-acre site of the former Wilson Motor Bodies, and which was in industrial use until 2009. The 448-unit project, in one-, two- and three-bedroom townhouses, will start at 515 square feet and sell for about $340 per square foot, putting the low end in the low $200,000s.

The design is by Guthrie Muscovitch Architects.

"The planning report recommending rezoning approval will be heard at the community council in November, 2013 and then recommended for approval at the December city council," says Minto’s development manager Lee Koutsaris. "The site plan application will be submitted to the city before the end of the year."

If all goes well, construction will start next spring, with the first occupancies set for July, 2015.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Lee Koutsaris

Great Gulf unveils its Active House

"When we learned of the internationally based Active House Alliance, established with an ambition to build homes that create healthier and more comfortable lives for their residents without impacting negatively on the climate and environment," says Madeline Zito, director of public relations for Great Gulf Homes, "we knew this was the right association for us to work with in order to progress our objectives and learning."

Great Gulf, which does high-rise business downtown under the name Tucker Hirise, has built Canada's first house built to the specifications of the Danish-led Active House organization, a non-profit consortium of academics, activists and corporations dedicated to developing systems and technology to lighten the footprint of homes.

Great Gulf says that the grand opening of the Thorold, Ontario house on Oct, 16, attended by the Danish ambassador, Niels Boel Ambrahamsen, marks a new step in the company’s interest in green building.

"The Alliance includes the whole supply chain in the construction sector from manufacturers to architects, engineers, builders and investors, to research institutes, universities and branch organizations," Zito says. "The Alliance has developed specifications, standards, and tools, for active houses and the members are involved in demonstration projects, knowledge sharing, webinars, etc. The wish of the members is that Great Gulf Active House become the future principle for new residential buildings in Canada."

The house itself will act as a research tool for Great Gulf and their partners to study the effect and effectiveness of various building materials, products and techniques that will be incorporated into future developments.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Madeline Zito
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