‘Looking ugly long enough’: Smiths Falls council to do ‘more surgical’ review of heritage aspects of former water treatment plant before demo

The former water treatment plant at 25 Old Mill Road, Smiths Falls, has a lot of heritage-defining elements that will be better identified so council can decide on a recommendation before demolition. – Laurie Weir photo

How much of the old water treatment plant will be rescued before demolition?

That was a question asked around the horseshoe of Smiths Falls committee of the whole on Monday, April 22, when a recommendation was brought to the table with highlights from the municipal heritage committee.

Karl Grenke, manager of development services, recommended that council authorize demolition of the structures at 25 Old Mill Road – the site of the fire that demolished the former water treatment facility about a year ago.

With the recommendation came four conditions that had councillors asking for clarification, including:

All stone, masonry and other heritage-defining elements of the structures be salvaged and stored in a safe and secure manner.
Before demo, all cultural heritage resources are to be removed and documented for archival purposes with a history, photographic record and drawings.
Council establishes the appropriate planning tools at the time of the sale of the land or its future development to establish an expectation that new development is appropriately sympathetic to the heritage context of this area and appropriately re-uses material in a manner that is consistent with heritage best practices; and
The Municipal Heritage Committee be consulted and provided the opportunity to provide feedback on the design of any new building before it is finalized.

Coun. Jay Brennan said he’d be interested to know the cost of carting away the materials that will be demolished.

“I would hope that it’s modest,” he said, but it doesn’t really identify that cost, which will be determined by negotiations with the insurance provider.

Mayor Shawn Pankow said they’d be “better served by having more clarity and have it better defined,” regarding the heritage elements.

“The entire site is classified heritage and heritage-defined elements are quite subjective,” Pankow said.

Should the windows, installed in the 1950s, or the brick that is included in the structure all be classified as heritage?

“I see merit in recovering that brick and reusing it,” he said. “But it’s a very large building.”

He said for homeowners in town doing repairs, some of that brick is probably a match.

“But I think we need some clarity. Otherwise, we run the risk of having problems somewhere along the way here,” he said.

Coun. Chris McGuire, who sits on the heritage committee, said there are two issues to consider.

“First, we don’t have an application for demolition, so by not pushing this, we’re not delaying the process,” he said. “But we are creating a precedent that I find worrisome, especially when I think of buildings like the old hydro building. To start agreeing to terms of demolition before the demolition permits have been received it throws off the order that this would usually happen if it was not a town-owned building.”

McGuire said he’d like to see the recommendation deferred.

“I think there are some good points brought up about the heritage-defining elements,” he said. “I think we can dial those in. The big thing I think that is holding us back from being able to define them outright is knowing what the insurance company is going to charge us for recovery of materials and what the scope of that is.”

Malcolm Morris, the town’s chief administrative officer, said this was an important step in the sequencing, “so we can provide direction to the insurer and therefore the contractor as to what the town’s expectation is.”

Morris said they were clear with the insurer, Intact Public Entities, that there is heritage value and importance to certain elements, “and that we would be insisting that they be respected.”
The resolution allows the town to confirm that they have been telling the insurer verbally, Morris noted.

“Even though we don’t have an application I would suggest this is going to set the stage for work that their contractor will eventually do on the site.”

In addition, the CAO said it’s council’s prerogative to decide.

“The heritage committee provides advice, which they have, but ultimately, it’s council’s decision. Yes, we do need clarity. We do not want to get in a position where someone believes a cinder block from 1962 is heritage and we should be saving it. If that’s case, great, but we need to know that before the contractor mobilizes on-site.”

Morris said they should not wait too long “because we need to give this guidance to the insurer so the contractor knows precisely what’s expected of them.”

Morris said they are working with the insurer to ensure they retain the heritage elements of the site for a nominal amount.

Grenke pulled council’s attention to the bylaw that was crafted in 2022 as to the heritage aspects of the site, which defines certain architectural features.

Pankow requested that bylaw be circulated to councillors and the heritage committee to review, and he suggested he’d take a walk around the site and take a look at it with this information in hand. He suggested coming to a final decision at the next committee meeting.

Coun. Dawn Quinn said they need to get moving on this. “It’s been sitting there looking ugly long enough.”

Morris added, “Given the mild case of uncertainty … we should bring this back and make a more surgical assessment of what needs to be saved and what does not.”

Council agreed to discuss this at the next committee of the whole meeting, after reviewing the heritage bylaw and scoping out the site.

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