Virtual Consultations Yield Details on New OOE Community Centre

Kristine Houde

In late April, City of Ottawa staff held virtual consultations on the future Old Ottawa East (OOE) Community Centre, fire lane, and Forecourt Park at the Deschâtelets Building. Following an introduction from Councillor Shawn Menard, City staff presented concepts for these spaces and invited participants to submit questions in a chat box which were then answered by staff.

Proposed Community Centre
In 2020, the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est (CECCE) acquired the existing Deschâtelets Building to house its French elementary school, Au Coeur d’Ottawa. The community centre will use 10-20% of the existing building, including a small kitchen for catering needs, multipurpose and meeting rooms and storage space.

An addition will be added to the north of Deschâtelets with access from Oblates Avenue to outdoor parking on the building’s east side. The addition, complete with an elevator, will house a new gymnasium and other community facilities, including a reception desk, staff room, weight and cardio/fitness rooms, lockers and unisex change rooms with private change cubicles equipped with floor-to-ceiling doors. The gymnasium will include a movable stage and be a shared space with the elementary school, with community access to the gym likely restricted to evenings and weekends.

The following are some takeaways from the consultations:

1. Facilities Management and Programming
City staff stated they will be responsible for all programming and rentals, like the approach used with the Sandy Hill Community Centre. This would be a marked departure from the current approach in Old Ottawa East where CAG is responsible for rentals and programming at Old Town Hall and Brantwood Park. City responsibility for programming also differs from the Glebe and Old Ottawa South, where the City owns, staffs and maintains the community centre facilities and rentals, while Glebe and Old Ottawa South community groups staff and manage all other programs.

2. Gymnasium, Fitness Rooms, Meeting Rooms
Gym plans appear to support a full-sized basketball/volleyball court, but no details were available regarding gym dimensions or the height of the ceiling, whether or not it would accommodate a regular-sized court, and if smaller courts could be set up crosswise to allow more than one activity – for example, badminton – to take place at the same time. The weight room and cardio/fitness room will be welcome additions to OOE, but absent from the plans is a separate room for yoga, Pilates, or mobility classes. The meeting rooms depicted in the concept also appear undersized for the needs of larger groups for town halls or other large-scale events, especially if social distancing continues to be a requirement.

Image Supplied

Image Supplied

3. Safety and Accessibility
City staff could not specify what equipment would be included in the meeting and fitness rooms and whether fitness equipment and furniture could be selected with the intention to meet the needs of all ages, as well as those with disabilities and mobility concerns. Some consultation participants expressed safety concerns if they were in distress while in a unisex change room closed cubicle. Staff responded that the reception desk would be located near the change rooms for staff to monitor traffic and respond promptly to emergencies. Participant suggestions to incorporate help/call buttons and enhanced safety features will be considered in future designs.

4. Retaining heritage design while respecting
Indigenous Peoples impacted by the Oblates For some, the Deschâtelets Building and heritage features need to be preserved, but for others, it is a negative reminder of the prominent role the Oblates played in managing many residential schools across Canada. In his introduction, Councillor Menard spoke to the fact that these spaces are on unceded land, a fact that should be considered in the design of this project. Greg Macdougall, present at these consultations, and who also penned an editorial on this topic in the October 2021 issue of The Mainstreeter, encouraged the City, school, and community to engage and to centre Oblates-impacted Indigenous peoples in decision-making on meaningful commemoration for these sites. Staff agreed some form of commemoration is needed and is looking to the community for further guidance.

Proposed Forecourt Park and Fire Lane
As OOE residents wait a second summer for work on the Grande Allée Park to begin, City staff presented three options for the fire lane, and a Forecourt Park concept they say is based on a 2015 in-person consultation and recent Fall 2021 online survey asking respondents to rank park features. Staff cautioned that work on the Forecourt Park and fire lane are years away, with final plans and timelines dependent on Regional’s plans for its surrounding residential spaces and construction completion of the Deschâtelets Building.

City staff provided minimal details on the Forecourt Park, stating “unique equipment and treatments” were being proposed, i.e., a water fountain or splash pad. There are no plans to fence in the park, staff opting instead for a natural separation between future residences and the site. Public feedback included multiple questions and opposing opinions on park features which ranged from disappointment from 2015 consultation participants that their input was not better reflected in the concept to requests from the community and Au Coeur parents for fenced-in space and play structures and an open design for outdoor gatherings and special events. Also missing in the concept is dedicated space in the Forecourt Park for outdoor programming, with City staff recommending the use of nearby parks to support these activities.

For the fire lane, option 1 (gravel) would be equipped with chained gates for access solely by fire and emergency vehicles. Option 2 (paved) would allow shared use by emergency and fire, with weekday access by school buses for student drop-off and pick-up. Option 3 would allow access to any vehicle for drop-off at the front of the building. Opinions were once again split during the consultation process, with some preferring the space-saving and greenspace-preserving design of option 1, and others preferring concept 2 or 3 to reduce peak-hour street congestion and enable safer drop-offs.

With over 1,000 new residents moving to OOE in recent years, and little opportunity to assess changing community needs as new developments are added to Greystone Village, further consultation is clearly needed on these spaces destined to become a central hub for OOE. The proposed concepts can be viewed at Engage Ottawa – Old Ottawa East Community Centre and Forecourt Park Consultation (OOECC). Visit Engage Ottawa in June to view the proposed concepts, to see updates from the City, or to email feedback to OOECC-CCVOE@ottawa.ca. Residents are also encouraged to share your comments with Councillor Menard and the Old Ottawa East Community Association to help inform their recommendations to the City on future plans.

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