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Timmins federal government building gets limestone refresh

Peter Kenter
Timmins federal government building gets limestone refresh
Each Indiana limestone panel on two elevations of the building needed to be removed. -

As Karen Bachmann, director and curator of the Timmins Museum notes, it’s up to each community to decide what constitutes a historic building worth preserving. One address in this northern Ontario community is currently receiving the royal treatment as crews from BRC Restoration of Concord renew its limestone-clad building envelope.

The Service Canada Centre located on Cedar Street is only about 60 years old but represents a significant example of the government buildings erected through the middle of the last century.

"It was built in the late 1950s as a post office to replace the previous one built in 1938," says Bachmann. "They needed more room to handle home delivery, but even that building proved to be too small."

The building continued to serve various federal functions and currently acts as a community touchpoint for dozens of federal programs.

The property is managed on behalf of Public Works and Government Services Canada by Brookfield Global Integrated Solutions, which solicited bids for the building envelope contract in summer 2016.

"In more southern Canadian climates, the problems with limestone are most often caused by moisture and the freeze-thaw cycle," says BRC Restoration vice-president, Arran Brannigan.

"In Timmins, it is relatively dry and the winters are consistently cold. The problem here is that the supports for the building envelope are made of untreated black steel that can rust when exposed to even trace amounts of moisture. As the metal oxidizes it can begin to put pressure on the limestone cladding — a process known as jacking."

BRC was devised as a one-stop shop for building envelope work, so crews are skilled in concrete and masonry restoration, metalwork and scaffold system erection. All of the construction work on the project is self-sourced.

The engineering consultant on the project is Fishburn Sheridan & Associates Ltd. of Ottawa.

The building stands about 40 feet tall. Under the project, the contractor is required to remove each Indiana limestone panel on two elevations and then replace all of the lintels and shelf angles. All newly installed steel must be corrosion resistant, conforming with current building codes. The underlying concrete substrate is also undergoing restoration.

"The limestone itself is holding up very well," says Brannigan. "The damage seems limited to the places where it interfaces with the metal. We haven’t had to replace any panels, which we’re currently patching or repairing using matching stone repair products."

While Indiana limestone is still available, it must be ordered from the quarry in Indiana where it was first acquired, in order for stone faces to match.

"We’re also placing a semi-permeable air-vapour barrier between the limestone cladding and the masonry and concrete substrate," says Brannigan. "There’s a barrier that was installed in the interior of the building, but the proper way to install it is from the outside — and it’s currently non-existent."

Construction began on the building in September 2016 and has provided work for as many as a dozen BRC employees.

In the dead of winter, temperatures have dropped to as low as -30 C during work shifts.

"It actually got pretty cold right from the time we got there in the fall," says Brannigan.

The anticipated completion date for the project is summer 2017.

"When this building was constructed, the solid limestone facing was probably symbolic of a strong and permanent presence of the federal government in a city that was fairly young," says Brannigan. "It would have stood out then, and with the work we’re completing, it can continue to stand out for decades to come."

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