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Transforming the former Kingsmill’s department store

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Fanshawe College in London, Ont. is transforming the former Kingsmill’s department store building into a dynamic learning centre for tourism, hospitality and information technology programs.

The estimated $66.2 million project is the single largest capital investment the college has undertaken to date.

It will support the city’s vision of revitalizing the downtown core.

"The building was one of the few single properties with a footprint large enough to accommodate our plans," said Shawn Harrington, the college’s senior manager of campus planning and capital development.

The project is being undertaken by a team that includes Diamond Schmitt Architects in association with Philip Agar Architect Inc. Consulting mechanical and electrical engineers are Smith + Andersen.

The structural engineers are Hastings & Aziz Ltd. Construction manager is EllisDon.

To accommodate the project, the interior of the existing building will be gutted. Three storeys will be added, plus a mechanical penthouse. The new six-storey centre will house modern labs, bright and open classrooms and collaborative learning spaces for 1,600 students. It is scheduled to open in September 2018.

Design development has been completed. A number of packages have been tendered — among them facade restoration, demolition, structure, foundations and concrete as well as mechanical, electrical and plumbing and the building envelope.

Harrington said the college was encouraged by the city to move programming downtown to support the revitalization and rejuvenation of the core "and more particularly, to acquire and renovate existing properties in the newly established Education and Arts District.

"The challenge was the high cost of renovating existing buildings, many of which are in the designated Downtown Heritage Conservation District," he said.

"The city and the college reached an agreement where the city would provide a grant to the college to offset the high cost of renovating these properties downtown."

The city is providing a $19 million grant to help fund the project. An additional $1 million grant is being contributed by MainStreet London and the London Downtown Business Association Board. The property was acquired by the college in November 2014.

Harrington said it was determined prior to that acquisition that the existing structure, with its wood floor joists and narrow structural bays, would not support the loads or be suitable for a modern college facility — hence the decision to gut the interior.

He said the existing east and west interior walls are "party" walls, "meaning that they are common to our property and our neighbours.

"These walls, as well as the existing historical south limestone facade on Dundas Street, will remain."

These walls will be temporarily shored or braced while the remainder of the building is demolished. The existing brick on the historical red brick portion of the Dundas Street facade has been removed and catalogued for reinstallation at a later date. The Carling Street facade is being demolished to allow construction access. It will be reconstructed, "similar to the original facade."

The former department store was constructed between the 1860s and the 1930s.

"Although the building was well constructed for those times, it was not built using current construction methods," Harrington said.

As a result, remedial work to brace and support the structure was necessary.

Harrington said varied soil and ground water conditions in the building’s basement "although anticipated, have been more challenging than first expected.

"Our construction manager and engineers have developed plans to minimize these challenges."

In addition, unanticipated asbestos-containing materials were also discovered and had to be abated. This was done during the pre-construction phase.

"Of course, working in the centre of downtown London will be challenging," Harrington said. "However, our construction manager has a wealth of experience in successfully delivering projects in these settings."

The new campus facility will be located directly across the street from the college’s Centre for Digital and Performance Arts in the Howard W. Rundle Building.

"The downtown London precinct is designated to preserve historic buildings, so this project respects that and will retain the street character fronting the busy Dundas Street and Carling Street sides," said Branka Gazibara, an associate with Diamond Schmitt.

The firm was retained early in 2015 to undertake the project, in association with London-based Philip Agar. When complete, the new downtown Fanshawe campus will bring a total of 2,000 students into the heart of the city.

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