A New Day Dawning For Deschâteletes – City Okays Chapel Demolition, New School

Ottawa City Council has approved rezoning of the main Deschâtelets Building for a new French-language elementary school within its walls. Photo by John Dance

Ottawa City Council has approved rezoning of the main Deschâtelets Building for a new French-language elementary school within its walls. Photo by John Dance

John Dance

After about four hours of vigorous debate at the City’s heritage and planning committees in mid-September, the proposals for a new elementary school in the heritage designated Deschâtelets Building and for the demolition of the building’s chapel wing were recommended by the planning committee and subsequently approved by City Council on September 23. The decisions come with conditions that, among other things, would provide some commemoration of the to-be demolished chapel wing and the history of the Oblates who built the Deschâtelets building in 1885 and modified it extensively over the years.

Assuming the conditions are met and the sale of the building from Regional Group to the French Catholic school board (Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est (CECCE)) proceeds, the new location of the Au Coeur d’Ottawa school would open as early as next September with a maximum enrollment of 351 students.

But it’s an ambitious schedule and, as pointed out by Capital Ward Councillor Shawn Menard, “there are a lot of moving parts.” One of the other “moving parts” is a much-needed new community centre that would occupy half of the ground floor of the re-purposed building, along with a new gymnasium / multi-purpose structure to be built just to the north of the building and to be shared with the school.

The new school is designed to occupy the other half of the ground floor and the second and third floors. The third “moving part,” would be affordable seniors housing on the top two floors of Deschâtelets.

At both the Built Heritage Sub-Committee and Planning Committee, numerous objections to the demolition of the heritage designated chapel wing were raised by residents and other interested parties, most notably by David Flemming, chair of the Heritage Ottawa Advocacy Committee

“We are not convinced that either the applicant or the City have made a persuasive argument to justify the demolition of the chapel,” said Flemming. “If the school has no requirement for the chapel wing at this time, why not stabilize it while the City further considers its options or the current owner tries to find another partner to enable them to live up to their commitment to preserving the building made over five years ago?” Flemming asked.

City Council approved the demolition of the Chapel wing of the Deschâtelets Building to facilitate sale of the building to the French Catholic school board.  Photo by John Dance

City Council approved the demolition of the Chapel wing of the Deschâtelets Building to facilitate sale of the building to the French Catholic school board. Photo by John Dance

Paul Goodkey, former chair of OOECA’s planning committee, presented strong arguments against Regional Group’s case that structural deficiencies of the chapel wing made it too costly to restore. Goodkey and others also strenuously objected to what they regarded as a rushed and questionable approval process and were of the view that the chapel wing had considerable potential for important community uses. Many related questions were raised by the heritage expert members of the heritage committee and when the vote was taken on the demolition, all four of them voted against. However, the four Councillors on the committee supported the proposed demolition.

When two days later the matter was brought to the planning committee, the demolition was unanimously approved. Capital Ward Councillor Shawn Menard successfully introduced several amendments to the approval decision to mitigate the loss of the chapel wing.

Speaking on behalf of the Old Ottawa East Community Association, Ron Rose noted: “The issue has been a divisive one within the community, with strong feelings on both sides, but the community decided, on balance, that the value of proposed benefits outweighed the cost of the loss of the Chapel wing.”

Several parents of children of the Au Coeur school, now in temporary quarters in DeMazenod, an old school at the corner of Graham Avenue and Main Street, stressed how good it will be to have a permanent francophone school in the Deschâtelets Building. The school’s catchment area covers Centretown, Glebe, Old Ottawa East and South.

Concerns about whether there really will be affordable housing in the upper floors of the re-purposed Deschâtelets Building were raised by Councillors Menard and Catherine McKenney and others, some of whom questioned whether the school board would be allowed to have housing above a school. Board superintendent Marc Bertrand responded that this use would be acceptable to the Ministry of Education.

Many other questions and concerns abound, including adequacy of proposed parking, the impact of the school on the city park in front of Deschâtelets, and school bus routes. Meanwhile, the school board plans to launch the project in the near future with the removal of contaminated material within the old building.

After the lengthy committee debates, Menard concluded, “It will be a groundbreaking project we can be proud of in the future”. Planning Committee chair Jan Harder, always with the last word, said, “I think this is the perfect fit for this property, for its history and for the community. I think it’s just wonderful.”

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