Children’s Garden remediation saga

Gardeners (from left) Isaac Cullen, James Newberry, Elliot Cullen, Clarke McLean and Rohan Gillis with some of the newly painted pickets for the restored Children Garden. Photo by John Dance

Gardeners (from left) Isaac Cullen, James Newberry, Elliot Cullen, Clarke McLean and Rohan Gillis with some of the newly painted pickets for the restored Children Garden. Photo by John Dance

By John Dance

The good news is that after a yearlong shutdown the Children’s Garden in Legget Park at the corner of Clegg and Main streets is reopened with improved accessibility and the contaminated soil safely isolated.

The bad news is that the remediation and accessibility measures cost the City of Ottawa in the range of $500,000. Worse still, the Children Garden’s volunteers and adjacent neighbours much prefer the simple award-winning design of the garden as it had been before the City decided remediation work was necessary.

The saga began back in December 2016 when the community was informed by City Councillor David Chernushenko that “the City’s Environmental Remediation Unit [had] identified shallow soil contamination at 321 Main Street, the location of Robert F. Legget Park and the Ottawa Children’s Garden.”

“The contaminants of concern include a number of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) compounds which have been detected at concentrations exceeding the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change standards,” the Councillor’s email noted. “Ottawa Public Health has confirmed that there is no immediate risk to residents from this soil. Acute exposure from being at the park or working in the garden should not pose any health effects,” the attached backgrounder noted.

Nevertheless, after further testing, the City decided remediation was required and proceeded to prepare plans for remediation and improving accessibility.

A lengthy consultation process followed. The Garden volunteer board worked with the children at Lady Evelyn School and in the community to redesign the garden – with the garden design being the same in terms of elevation, brush along the edges as it was before, but with some new features to make it more educational. These features were shared with the City but few made it into the new design.

A second problem is that adjacent neighbours on Marlowe Crescent were not consulted on the remediated park being about 1.5 metres higher along the property lines than it had been. As a result of the raised elevation, neighbours have lost privacy in their backyards and park users will now be looking directly into neighbours’ windows.

Efforts to have better fencing to restore neighbours’ privacy have not yet been successful. The City has been adamant that the new chain link fence is sufficient and any “solid” fencing would have to be paid for by the community or residents.

The City says “woody vegetation (fruit trees and clematis vine along the fence) will be planted to provide visual screening.” However, one resident wrote to the City, noting that “ planting vines may serve to screen for a few months of the year at best, and then only if you are able to grow anything in the few inches of soil that caps the many feet of gravel fill.”

The elaborate design of the rebuilt children’s garden includes many cedar timber planting beds with new soil connected by accessible pathways. Most of the planting beds are about a metre high, although a few are about half this height. Some residents have questioned how easy it will be for children to readily dig in the raised beds.

Another new feature is a large sandbox with an elaborate entrance step. The sandbox had been suggested by the City during the consultation process but was not a feature in the children’s design.

The origins of the contamination are not known. When the park was originally proposed as the site for the children’s garden in 2009 the soil was tested and deemed safe. But with the more recent testing, contamination was found.

“The consultant has indicated the elevated PAH levels may be associated with the site’s previous uses, possibly as a railway loop or the possibility that contaminated garden or growing soil was imported to the Park during the development of the garden,” says the City.

While the remediation was underway, the children gardeners at Lady Evelyn School and a few other children in the community have worked hard to paint another set of colourful fence pickets, one of the defining features of the “old” garden. The City provided the school with the new pickets.

“It is positive that we will get back in the Garden on May 18th,” says Sue McKee, one of the co-chairs of the volunteer board. “The children at Lady Evelyn and the others are excited to plant and see their creative artwork surrounding the garden again on the fence posts! Nouvelle école élémentaire catholique au coeur d’Ottawa at 88 Main Street is currently painting some fence pickets and hoping to do a lot of their science education in the garden.”

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Filed in: Environment, FP, Front Page

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