A future hub in a historic landmark

Former religious college building could be turned into affordable housing, community health centre and spanking new gym

DSC_0334By Joe Paraskevas

Old Ottawa East could soon see the answer to one of its glaring deficiencies: the lack of a community centre capable of handling the area’s growing needs.

In early May, Ottawa city council approved a committee recommendation that the city enter into talks with The Regional Group, which is developing much of the land surrounding Saint Paul University.

Specifically, the city and Regional would look into the developer’s proposal to turn the 132-year-old, four-storey Deschâtelets building at the back of the university campus into a massive public-use facility.

According to a report from the Finance and Economic Development committee, Regional approached the city last year with a renovation plan. It would see the former missionary college, parts of which are protected under the Ontario Heritage Act, become home to residential housing, including affordable housing, a new space for the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre and a new community recreation hall.

“The 21,000-square-foot community recreation centre has been conceived to include a gymnasium, fitness centre and multi-use activity and meeting rooms,” the report said.

If the talks succeed, they could bring an end to years of woefully small and inadequate community facilities in OOE, as Coun. David Chernushenko himself told the committee.

“With Old Ottawa East set to welcome 3000 new residents over the next 10 years, through developments by both the Regional Group and Domicile (among others), the community is in dire need of facilities that will support (its) recreation and programming needs,” Chernushenko said in the committee report.

“Given the undersized nature of both the Old Town Hall and the Brantwood Park Field House, an alternative needs to be found,” Chernushenko went on. “The Deschâtelets Building … represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to showcase adaptive reuse of a historic building while providing a vibrant hub. … This is an opportunity that cannot be missed as it will provide tangible benefits to all of the city’s residents for decades to come.”

Discussions are expected to take place “over the coming weeks and months,” said Kevin Wherry, the city’s manager for Parks and Facilities Planning. The city’s goal is to reach an agreement to acquire or occupy the Deschâtelets, Wherry said.

In addition to the city and Regional, meetings will involve the Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corp. that owns and manages more than 50 local affordable-housing properties.

Talks between the city and the CCOC are already underway. Regional and the CCOC have been meeting “for some time,” said Josh Kardish, vice-president of eQ Homes, Regional’s home-building arm.

“The best possible outcome from our perspective would be for the CCOC to complete the negotiation and sign a firm Agreement of Purchase and Sale for the Deschâtelets to be repurposed as a mixed-use building that includes residential uses in accordance with the CCOC mandate, community-based uses and a new community building with a full-size gym,” Kardish said.

The Old Ottawa East Community Association, which has long met with city officials about future use of the Deschâtelets is now only an observer, but a keen one, admitted Stephen Pope, past chair of the association’s Planning committee.

“We don’t have much in the way of leverage,” Pope said. “On the upside, the OOECA supports the master plan for Greystone Village and notwithstanding the odd bump in the road, things are moving smoothly.”

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Filed in: FP, Front Page, News

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