Posted by: Janet Uren
Renovation of a century-old building is not for the faint-hearted, especially when the building has survived a century to become an architectural landmark in Ottawa, a monument to a way of life and a gathering place for generations of Ottawa families and friends.
The vision for the Clubhouse restoration was to bring new life to a grand old building, to extend its life span and make it a year-round place for community events. In fact, the project so far has resembled more of a rescue mission.
The Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club (OTLBC) Clubhouse is a visibly grand building, featuring large, high-ceilinged rooms and gracious verandahs overlooking the tennis courts. While managers of the past knew the Clubhouse needed work, they lacked the resources even to begin planning. Also, they could never have imagined the extent of the hidden decay.
Since construction began in October 2021, there have been some awful surprises. “The riskiest part of any new construction project is getting out of the ground,” says Sean Lundy of Lundy Construction, the firm responsible for the work. In that respect, he adds, “We were thrown a curveball.”
The first big surprise was the nature of the soil underneath the building, which lies not far from the banks of the Rideau River. “It was something I had never encountered before,” says Lundy, “a kind of spongy sand. There was no way that the foundations we had designed could bear the load, and we had to rethink them.”
Things got worse. “When we discovered flowing water in late November, it wasn’t exactly a disaster. It was, however, a moment for reset.” The design team responded by eliminating the planned basement and by digging deeper to find firm soil. The first goal, Lundy explains, was to complete the structural upgrades of removing rotting wooden beams and replacing them with steel. “Next, we targeted our efforts on getting to a nice, clean slab on grade. We’ve achieved both of these important milestones. This building is going to stand for another hundred years.”
The nature of the soil was not the only shock. When the builders stripped away the inner layer of the exterior walls, they were dismayed at the fragility of the structure beneath. “Clearly, the original builders had economy in mind, and one hundred years of weather and wear and tear has been a factor too,” says Lundy. “In places, you could see daylight through the walls.” Everywhere the construction team looked, they had to strengthen and reinforce before going forward.
The building is also getting upgrades that will allow it to meet today’s standards for life safety, while preserving the original architectural elements, such as the historic central stair. The upgrades include fire protection in the form of sprinklers on each level and at all verandahs. The team had hoped to take a phased approach to this costly portion of the project, which includes a water main upgrade, but municipal authorities have mandated that all fire protection work be completed in this first phase of restoration. Therefore, sprinklers throughout had to be accommodated in the budget.
Despite the surprises, the achievements are heartening, including demolition, excavation of new foundations, shoring up of the existing structure and the installation of new steel columns and beams as well as new drywall. Also, the Clubhouse now boasts highly efficient, radiant heating set into the concrete floor and an electrical system brought fully up to code, with both systems delivered on budget.
Lundy Construction has worked closely with OTLBC leaders to squeeze the most out of every construction dollar spent. Because of the various surprises, however, the project so far has cost more and taken longer than anticipated. By the end of February, $1.4 million had been spent, and it was time to make some hard decisions. “Some trade-offs have had to be made,” says Lundy. “We’ve put together a strategy so that the building can open in May and be used over the summer while the club continues to raise funds to finish the work. The cabinetry and millwork and some other finishing items may need to come later as fundraising efforts continue.”
The good news is that the project has now sailed out of the territory of daily surprises and into much more predictable terrain. The plan now is to let the dust settle over the summer, as the club returns to some level of normality, and to plan for the next phases.
“Our team realizes we have a tiger by the tail, and we aren’t letting go,” says Sean Lundy. “We will do what it takes to get this done. Bottom line, this is a structure worth saving and the, structural work, sprinklers, and mechanical/electrical retrofit are all essential to giving this building another 100 years of life and service.”
The restoration is not just another project for Lundy Construction. It is personal for them. Sean’s father, Michael Lundy, who died in 2015, was a long-time member of the club and a past president. A decade ago, he was involved in the original impetus to restore the building. “Everybody on our team knows this building was very important to him,” says Lundy, “and it’s important for us to get this project right to honour his memory.”
What to do? As Lundy says, “hunker down and keep going.” The rewards are already substantial in terms of sustainability. Now it is time to finish the race. If you are interested in being part of this adventure and to make a donation, please visit the Clubhouse Resoration website at www.otlbc.com/donate or contact OTLBC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Janet Uren is a professional writer who lives in Ottawa.
Featured in the April 2022 OSCAR.