Smiths Falls to demolish former water treatment plant destroyed by fire

The heritage building at 25 Old Mill Road in Smiths Falls, the water treatment facility, was destroyed by fire in May 2023. Council’s committee of the whole decided on March 11, 2024, to move forward with demolition as they look to salvage pieces of its past. – Laurie Weir photo

The former water treatment facility on Old Mill Road in Smiths Falls may soon be demolished, but the town hopes to salvage some heritage aspects of it.

The demolition won’t be done quickly, or right away, town staff noted, and the project will take about a year to complete.

Smiths Falls councillors heard recommendations from the new director of community services about options for the property that was destroyed last spring during a regular committee of the whole meeting on Monday, March 11.

Director Stephanie Clark thanked councillors for their patience on a “particularly challenging, extra complicated” file.

The former water treatment plant, built in 1868, was destroyed by fire on May 8 last year.

Clark’s recommendation to council was to advance a claim with their insurance company, Intact Public Entities, to demolish the structure and properly dispose of it and its contents. She also recommended that they salvage and retain ownership of masonry elements of the stone and brick structures.

Clark said the full demolition removes the risk for the town and provides the best option.

The second option would see the town self-manage the site with an out-of-scope arrangement.

Coun. Steve Robinson said in his survey of 321 local residents, people preferred demolition by 84 per cent. He said any salvageable materials could be used in a number of ways for future development, like for a commemorative memorial or a feature wall; they could also be incorporated into the entrances at the new Confederation Bridge.

Coun. Chris McGuire asked if the demolition would remove the hazardous materials, and how the remainder of the area would be stabilized afterward.
The largest risk is below the buildings, chief administrative officer Malcom Morris said, as each has a sub- surface level. Part of the scope of the work will see a backfill of the cavity that will remain, and hold the retaining sea wall up against the Rideau Canal to keep it from collapsing “either outward or inward,” Morris explained.

“Our understanding is that fill material will also stabilize the remaining structures,” he continued. “We will need to confirm that there isn’t any requirement for an above-grade reinforcement.”

Morris said there are other elements in the water “that are not contemplated to be affected by this demolition.”

McGuire said he was concerned about whatever backfill material would be used, and the “potential to have tons and tons of material on top of contamination.” It’s been hard enough to get this site redeveloped as it is, McGuire said, “how is this ever going to get redeveloped with metres and tons of concrete on top of it?”

Morris said these were all good points raised by the councillor, but they don’t know what future development may look like. The town had an exclusivity agreement with Saumure Group of Companies for future development, but that agreement has expired. Morris said the local developer is interested in extending the exclusivity agreement.

“They still do intend to develop the site, or at least put a proposal together,” Morris said. “We will need to engage in a dialogue with them to attempt to orchestrate what the fill material could look like,” he added, but it needs to be a non-expandable type of fill.

“There are a lot of nuances here to unearth … once we get direction,” he said. “But in some form of fashion, demolition needs to occur.” Council’s decision to demolish the facility will help staff determine what direction to take and what restoration will look like.

The limit of coverage on the insurance policy for demolition and disposal is $5.2M. Related costs are expected to land within this threshold; therefore, there will be no direct costs incurred by the town. It will take a couple of months to start work on the demolition, with a timeline of nine to 12 months to complete.

“There is a lot of work to be done before the wrecking crew comes in to start demolishing the building,” Morris said, as updates of several reports need to happen – designated substances report, the ESA, and the cultural heritage assessment, to name a few.

“This isn’t a quick project,” he said. “We’re not expecting this to happen overnight. There will be a lot of work going on behind the scenes before we start removing bricks and stone.”

The recommendation by the committee will come before council at a future meeting.
The original stone building, constructed for Jason Gould in 1868 to operate as a grist mill, saw the addition of a three-story brick section in 1886 under the ownership of Adam Foster. It was acquired by the town in 1910 for waterworks purposes, with subsequent expansions in 1924 and 1927 to facilitate water treatment operations. The northern extension, serving as a filter plant, was added in 1952.

Until its decommissioning in 2010, it supplied clean drinking water to the community. These sections hold heritage designations and stand as some of the town’s oldest structures.

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