Affordable seniors housing confirmed: Inside the massive transformation of the Deschâtelets Building

John Dance

Back in 2015, saving the Deschâtelets Building in the centre of the Oblates Lands, which has become Greystone Village, seemed like a good idea.

Ottawa City Council agreed, blessing the historic landmark with a heritage designation. But it’s taken a lot of time, an extraordinary amount of collaboration and considerable investment by several public bodies, and enormous engineering and construction activity to save and transform the 137-year-old building.

Photo by John Dance

Photo by John Dance

A recent tour of the building by key parties revealed the extent of effort required to bring the structure up to current building standards. The building has been stripped down to its bare bones. The old plaster and insulation are all gone and any hazardous materials have been removed. What’s left is a lovely shell that reveals how the building was enlarged over the years, with new wings on both ends and two additional floors.

Also, the repointing of the exterior heritage stone walls has begun. Key participants in the tour were Councillor Shawn Menard and Councillor Mathieu Fleury, who is the outgoing chair of Ottawa Community Housing (OHC), along with representatives of the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est (CECCE). Although there still has not been a formal announcement, OHC plans on converting the two top floors of Deschâtelets into about 30 affordable housing units for seniors, thereby addressing a longstanding desire of the Old Ottawa East (OOE) community to include affordable housing within Greystone Village.

To bring the building up to current seismic building standards, 32 piles had to be driven down 30 metres into the bedrock. Normally this sort of work is done with a huge pile-driving machine, but in the case of Deschâtelets, the machinery had to be modified so that it would fit inside the building.

Photo by John Dance

Photo by John Dance

The modified equipment then had to drill the piles in metre-long sections, a difficult and time-consuming process. A concrete shear wall will be constructed on top of the piles to give the building the necessary strength to withstand earthquakes.

The building was bought by CECCE from the Regional Group so its elementary school Au Cœur d’Ottawa, currently at its temporary home of 88 Main Street, would have a new, large and permanent facility to serve children living in the central Ottawa communities.

Because the new school will require just half of Deschâtelets’ floor space, other tenants were required. First on board was the City which will create a new community centre on half of the ground floor and a new gymnasium/multi-purpose building to the north of the Deschâtelets.

The gym will be used by Au Cœur d’Ottawa during school hours. Most of the new classrooms feature the grand window openings of the original Deschâtelets structure along with unusually high ceilings.

On the eastern side of the building, the kindergarten classrooms will open onto a secure playground, and there will also be a childcare facility with its own secured play area. The main entrance on the western side of the building is being modified to provide better accessibility so that students can enter the school at ground level rather than using steps, as was anticipated in the original design.

The modification of the entrance allows for a large two-storey atrium surrounded by several classrooms and other areas. The City’s Built Heritage Sub-Committee and the OOE Community Association planning committee have asked that some improvements be made to the entrance design, and CECCE’s architects are proposing changes.

CECCE photo

CECCE photo

“This summer, Ottawa City Council approved moving forward with a lease for the community centre, including funding for the core components and a direction to develop an annual operating budget as part of the 2023 budget,” Menard noted in a press release following his tour. “It’s great seeing this project come together,” said Menard.

“We commend the residents and community groups, including the Old Ottawa East Community Association and Communities Activities Group, who have been pushing for a new recreation centre and for affordable housing in the community for a number of years.”

CECCE’s goal for opening the new school was originally September 2022, but that changed this September. Now the school board is targeting September 2023, but it’s a very sizeable project so there could be further delays. Dates for completion of the new gymnasium, the community centre and the affordable housing have not yet been set.

Filed in: Front Page

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