THE REHABILITATION OF 465 SUSSEX DRIVE
By François LeBlanc and Mona Lamontagne, architects, National
(Published in 1997)
465 Sussex Drive, before rehatilitation
The rehabilitation of 465 Sussex Drive was conceived, designed and
managed almost entirely by National Capital Commission (NCC) staff.
Only a few specialised engineering services were purchased from
the private sector. It was a typical government agency project.
Now, six months after the official opening, one-third of the employees
who worked on this project are no longer employed by the NCC. The
Real Estate Section which prepared the marketing studies and convinced
senior management of the project's economic validity has been entirely
privatised. Minto Properties Inc., a private sector company, now
performs these property management and leasing functions for the
NCC on a contractual basis.
The project began and ended amidst these changes. It is a good
example illustration of how a government agency such as the NCC
has adapted its approach to managing heritage properties within
difficult economic times. But the changes are not over yet. The
NCC will need to adapt even further its property management strategies
even further to meet the challenges of the next decade.
The Sussex Drive was built by Eusèbe Varin, a merchant,
and later owned by Eugène Martineau, a dry-goods merchant
who, between 1873 and 1875, served as mayor of the city. The building
is not associated with anyone else of historical interest, nor has
it been connected with any event of historical importance.
Built circa 1850, it was fully studied by the Federal Heritage
Buildings Review Office (FHBRO) and was recognised as a significant
heritage structure with 71 points. This basically means that the
NCC, the custodian agency, is responsible for ensuring its preservation
according to the federal government's preservation standards. If
the reviewing committee had given the building 50 points or less,
it would not have been recognised as having national heritage value.
Over 75 points, it would have been considered as having exceptional
national heritage value. All federally owned buildings 40 years
and over must be evaluated by FHBRO.
465 Sussex Drive is a three-and-one-half storey cut stone and brick
building with a mansard roof. This last feature is a replacement
for a hipped roof visible in early 20th century photographs. Though
taller than its neighbours, it is largely devoid of stylistic references:
it achieves its impact by its scale, the handling of its exterior
materials, the regularity of its openings, and its corner location.
No information has been discovered linking this structure to any
designer or craftsman.
The building has a gross per-floor area of 1,830 square feet for
a total gross area of 9,150 square feet. The total leasable area
is 5,714 square feet.
At the time the building was being considered for rehabilitation,
it housed two retail stores, Ampersand, a high-end toy business,
and A Very Special Place, a handicraft store. There were six tenants
living in the upper floor apartments which were in poor shape from
an architectural point of view and which no longer satisfied building
and fire codes and the more modern requirements of living quarters,
e.g., elevator, modern kitchens, laundry facilities etc.. Retail
was contributing $20,550 annually in rent and the residential rents
brought in $30,912. The building was therefore generating $51,462
in annual gross income. It should be noted that the attic was not
During 1994, the Realty and Operations (R&O) Division of the
NCC did a market survey, which confirmed that there was no market
in the area for office space, there being millions of square feet
of such space available in the city core at relatively cheap rates.
There was a market for small, and one-bedroom, apartments in the
downtown area. There was also a potential market of employees of
the new American embassy, which is to be built on Sussex Drive directly
across the street from this project. The R&O staff concluded
that two or three small retail stores on the ground floor could
be rented at $25 per sq. ft.; that bachelor apartments on the first
floor could bring in $500 to $600 per month and that one or two-bedroom
apartments on the third and fourth level could possibly be rented
between $1,100 to $1,300 per month. Should the rehabilitation costs
be maintained around one million dollars, then the pay back period
would be 10 to 11 years, making the project quite a viable economical
proposition. The project was approved.
Technical services now began measuring and investigating the building.
Twenty thousand dollars were spent during this phase, which lasted
approximately one month.
Testing air tightness of windows - Air is vacumed,
pressure is measured
Foundations and soil tests: The perimeter stone foundations were
found to be in good condition, but the basement would have to be
partly excavated by several feet to accommodate an elevator and
meet the requirements of the National Building Code. This was not
going to be cheap because the work would have to be done in bed
Walls: The walls are rubble masonry construction. They were built
of cut limestone on the exterior, rubble in the middle and rough
cut limestone on the interior face. The mortar was straight lime
and sand mix. The walls were two feet thick and were generally in
good condition. They were not insulated and there was no vapour
barrier in the building. The exterior walls were bearing and, needless
to say, did not satisfy the latest seismic codes and lateral stability
Windows: The retail floor windows were of the fixed type. They
could easily be repaired. The upper floor windows were wood framed,
double casement types, which open to the interior, and have a similar
exterior operable frame which also opens to the interior. No weather-stripping
was observed on the windows. They were in varying conditions: some
could easily be repaired, but many would require extensive restoration.
It was decided to undertake a restoration test on one of the windows.
It was stripped, the damaged wood was removed and new wood inserted.
Weather stripping was installed; the hardware was stripped and oiled.
We spent $2,000 on this study. It enabled us to test the restored
window for air leakage and estimate accurately how much it would
cost to restore all the windows. The tests demonstrated that the
repaired window air-tightness rates exceeded the A440 requirements
for an A2 rated window. This meant that the restored windows would
not be draughty, nor the cause of important loss of energy. Finally,
the cost of restoring the existing windows was almost equivalent
to the cost of installing new windows.
On the negative side, the existing windows were not very practical.
They opened on the inside, which meant that the screen had to be
installed on the outside and that blinds could not be used in the
apartments. Furthermore, because they were very high windows, a
window latch extension tool was necessary to open and close them
properly. The addition of weather stripping also added to the difficulty
of operating the restored windows. For these reasons, management
decided to go for new windows instead of restoring the existing
ones. Particular attention was given to developing exterior and
interior architectural moulding details which would harmonise the
new windows with the remaining architectural details and the building's
Doors: The original exterior doors and frames could be restored.
Mouldings and Cornice: All existing mouldings and metal cornices
could be restored.
Structure: The existing wooden floor system and cast iron frame
could remain. They would need to be reinforced but it was not necessary
to gut the building in order to accommodate the new systems and
partitions. A key point was lateral stability of the building. Rigidity
of the building envelope frame was necessary to meet the new seismic
requirements in the building code. The existing foundation footings
had to be enlarged to accommodate the new live- and dead-load calculations.
Roof and Dormers: The existing Mansard roof had been badly damaged
in a past fire. Most of the structural members had been exposed
to the fire; however, after examination, it was determined that
with minimal reinforcement, the existing roof structure could be
kept and restored. The flat roof portion of the building was at
the end of its useful life and would have to be replaced. The metal
portion still had five to eight years left in it but it was decided
not to take any chances and to replace it with new metal installed
in exactly the same manner. The dormers could be repaired.
Contaminants: There was no lead in the paint nor in the water.
There was asbestos in the boiler room, but none in the plaster.
No other contaminants were found.
Mechanical and Electrical Systems: These systems were at the end
of their useful life and would need to be replaced entirely.
PLANS AND SPECIFICATIONS
The plans and specifications were prepared by NCC staff according
to the Realty and Operations Division requirements. There would
be two retail spaces on the ground floor, two bachelor apartments
on the first floor along with a two-bedroom apartment. There would
be four one-bedroom and study apartments on the third and fourth
floors. The building would be fully accessible, air conditioned,
and continue to have a hot water heating system. There would be
gas fireplaces and all apartments would be equipped with refrigerator,
range and dishwasher. Laundry facilities and lockers would be provided
in the basement. The apartment floors would be finished with hardwood.
Apartment interior before rehabilitation
------- Apartment interior after rehabilitation
Apartment interior after rehabilitation
The designer's major challenge was to meet the client's requirements
while respecting the National Building Code and budget. Numerous
architectural elements were closely tracked for cost. Replacement
options were often requested by the client from the design team
and later on from the contractor to stay within budget. The space
available was so tight that, in many instances, there were only
millimetres left to accommodate the building elements. The design
was done under Parts 3 and 11 of the Building Code. A conscious
decision was made to install a sprinkler system for the entire building
even though the Building Code required only that the ground floor
be protected by sprinklers. All drawings were done on AutoCAD version
12 which facilitated the coordination between all professionals
and ensured great precision and ease of modifications.
Car parking would be available in a commercial parking lot immediately
adjacent to the building and owned by the NCC, but an extra $100
would be charged to tenants who wished to use the lot.
Market studies established that the retail space could be rented
at $25.00 per square foot, the bachelor apartments could bring $550
per month, and the other apartments could be rented between $1,100
to $1,300 per month. Heat and water would be included in the rent
while hydro would be extra.
The lowest bid for the rehabilitation work went to Mueller-Hein
from Ottawa for the amount of $1,155,386. Most of the rehabilitation
work went smoothly except for the mechanical systems, which created
all sorts of difficulties. Numerous changes were required because
space was so tight, and many details had not been worked out at
the conceptual level. The modifications to the mechanical systems
generated chain reactions that were difficult to bring under control
as one change led to another and so on. The rehabilitation work
lasted seven months, from January 1996 to July 1996. During this
period, NCC construction supervision staff spent a great deal of
time on site ensuring, with the contractor, that the best possible
solutions were applied to everyday problems. A good, close working
relationship between the contractor and the NCC staff enabled the
NCC to save money and keep the project within budget.
IF WE COULD DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN
If we could begin this project all over again, we would surely
do certain things the same way, but there are others that we would
Investigations: Though we spent a considerable amount of time and
money on initial investigations, we would probably spend even more
if we could start again. It cannot be stressed enough that accurate,
very accurate, recording drawings and an appreciation of existing
conditions will always save a great deal of design time and help
avoid many problems at construction time.
Mechanical and Electrical: We would spend much more time closely
reviewing the mechanical and electrical drawings, systems, availability
of the proposed equipment and material in the Ottawa region. We
would probably have saved a lot of money and simplified our life
greatly if we had required more detailed drawings from the mechanical
and electrical engineers, and insisted on an explanation for every
detail appearing on the drawings. One of the major problems we had
to face was the fact that the hot water system pipes ran so close
to the exterior walls in some instances that there was a serious
danger that they would freeze. This had not been detected at the
design stage and had to be corrected during construction. The entire
system had to be adapted to incorporate glycol in order to ensure
that it would not freeze-up during the winter. This was a costly
Heritage Preservation: We would make more effort to raise senior
management's level of awareness to the heritage values of the property
early on in the process. When large teams are brought together in
government agencies to undertake a project, several persons may
be sensitive to heritage preservation, but the majority are generally
not. It is a good idea to make an early presentation to management
on the heritage character defining elements of a property, and why
it is important to preserve them for future generations.
Contractors: We would pre-qualify the mechanical and electrical
sub-contractors. In a public system where the lowest bid is the
law, one may end up with a contractor who is not very knowledgeable
about heritage conservation philosophy and techniques. Fortunately,
this was not the case for this project, but we realised a bit late
that this could have easily happened. If it is possible to involve
the contractor early on in the design process, then this is recommended.
Many technical problems can be avoided at conceptual level. This
is always more economical than having to solve them on site.
Estimates: Construction cost estimates prepared by a group of professionals
within a government agency that undertakes a large number of projects
of varying size and nature tend to be much more precise than those
prepared by private sector firms. I give a great deal of credibility
to these estimates because they have proven many times to be quite
accurate. The problem is that senior management does not necessarily
give them the same level of credibility.
Collaboration with City Officials: Early and regular collaboration
and meetings with The City Plan Examiner and Fire Commissioner is
important and ensures that last minute, on- site modifications brought
forth by unforeseen situations will be looked at in a creative and
positive way. In this project, this aspect went very well.
Government agencies with a full staff of professionals to undertake
projects in-house is going to be a thing of the past for awhile
as more downsizing takes place. More and more, government agencies
will spend time and effort doing project development and management
as opposed to research and design. They will turn to the private
sector for services.
We have no problem, in principle, with this approach, especially
in the framework of downsizing government agencies. But in practice,
there are still many obstacles to overcome, the first one being
that there is very little "real" heritage conservation
expertise in the private sector.
The field of heritage conservation is a speciality. It is a body
of skills and knowledge that is learned in post-graduate studies,
requires many years of research and studies, and needs to be constantly
updated. This is recognised as such in many developed countries
of the world, not the least being most of the European countries.
The number of architectural, engineering, landscape and management
firms that have approached the NCC stating that they were "specialised"
or even "experts" in the field of heritage conservation
is surprising. When asked: "In which academic institution have
you acquired your expertise?" The answer usually is: "I
have developed my skills by doing projects, many of which have won
awards of various kinds." And then, when asked: "Of which
specialised professional heritage conservation organisations are
you or your firm a member of where you keep abreast of the latest
developments?" Most often, the answer is: "none".
How these people, who have not learned heritage conservation skills
as part of their basic professional training, have not bothered
acquiring them in post-graduate studies and are not following the
development of this speciality through professional organisations
can call themselves experts and be accepted by community leaders
as such, is something that we consider a problem that needs to be
addressed in the near future by people responsible for managing
our heritage properties.
There are many young professionals who are now specialising in
heritage conservation. Part of our new strategies should be to employ
them or make sure that they are part of the hired teams.
SENIOR MANAGEMENT INSIST ON COMMERCIAL MARKET RETURNS FOR HERITAGE
Again, we have no problem in principle with this approach. If heritage
rehabilitation projects can be developed and managed within commercially
viability criteria, then they are much easier to sell to senior
management. But these days, anything which is above "basic"
necessities, above "code", needs to be argued with senior
management. Architects who want to produce nicer buildings have
to argue for increased budgets with their clients in order to use
better or long-lasting materials or develop unique architectural
details requiring custom work.
We are strong believers that it is possible, most of the time,
to demonstrate to management that restoring a heritage structure
will cost the least and return the most; that it is better to rehabilitate
than it is to demolish and rebuild; that this is true from an economical,
social, environmental and architectural point of view. Ten years
of Main Street Canada experience has well demonstrated this fact
to François LeBlanc, and thousands of other Canadians.
One of the problems with this approach is that we are not certain
that the preservation community is convinced of this fact or that
it understands which arguments need to be brought forward and which
ones have absolutely no effect on developers or property managers.
Also, very few professionals or contractors know how to rehabilitate
buildings in an efficient and economical way. Much still needs to
be done, but we see a bright future for heritage preservation and
the people who decide to dedicate a portion of their professional
lives to this mission!