Orillia’s new $53 million recreational facility, Foundry Park, will open its doors to host the Ontario Winter Games in February 2020. It is hoped that the project will energize development in an underutilized area of former industrial sites and machine shops.
What makes Foundry Park notable and instructive for other municipalities is that the 36-acre facility site is in fact a brownfield, abandoned for 20 years after the closure and demolition of a major foundry.
Perhaps it would have been easier to select one of several other suggested locations for the centre. However, like many municipalities around the country, Orillia faced the prospect of an industrial site near its downtown core lying empty for decades. The City decided to show leadership and commit to the property. For its efforts, Orillia was awarded a “Brownie” at the Canadian Brownfields Network Conference earlier this year.
Orillia was granted ownership of the property from Molson Brewery in 2002 in exchange for a $750,000 tax receipt. The company had earlier acquired the land with plans to build a new local outlet for its Beaver Lumber chain, until it sold the business to Home Hardware in 1999.
Despite the risks of acquiring a site potentially ripe with environmental issues, Orillia found the location and its potential as a catalyst for area revitalization too compelling to overlook. After years of political discussion and community activism, the foundry site was confirmed for a new 132,000 square foot aquatic, gym and fitness facility.
We have seen renewed interest in properties around the facility site
— Ted Edmond
The true environmental nature of the site was only revealed once planning discussions began in earnest with the province’s Ministry of Environment (MOE) after local debate died down. “During the design process the Ministry allows you to either remediate or risk assess,” said Ray Merkley, director of parks, recreation and culture for the city.
“Remediation is when you essentially remove all the contaminants from the site. Risk assessment means putting measures in place to minimize the risk to anyone using the site in the future. We took the risk assessment approach based on the science of the site and what was most practical.”
Merkley explained that as a result of consultations with the Ministry, environmental measures to the site and building were incorporated into the design when the project was put out for tender, representing about $10 million of $53 million budget.
Key to the risk assessment approval was the containment of a particular “hot spot” of contamination identified on the site. As a result, the building itself was moved, and then raised four metres on 140,000 cubic metres of imported soil.
Approximately 1,400 Geopiers were installed under the building footprint to improve the soil bearing capacity. The hotspot was encapsulated in concrete on all sides and the bottom, and the main parking lot built over top.
Across the remainder of the site, a liner of Bentofix Clay was installed over trails and naturalized spaces. For areas considered “Active,” a layer of 900mm of imported, clean soil was then added.
The building’s interior environment must be constantly monitored for the next several years, Merkley explained. “Depending on the results, the Ministry will tell us how more or less frequently we have to continue doing this.” He said that several monitoring wells are also located around the perimeter of the structure and around the property.
Looking back over the problematic and contentious history surrounding the new recreational facility, former mayor and current councillor Ted Edmond has no second thoughts concerning the decision to press on with the brownfield site.
“We have seen renewed interest in properties around the facility site — new buildings have gone up, others have changed hands, properties in the area have plans for development. What we’re seeing is a gradual revitalization.”
“I firmly believe that if the city didn’t make this investment, that property would still be empty, and who knows for how many more decades in the future,” said Mayor Steve Clarke. “Was it worth it? Do I think the city should have been involved, or would do it again? My answer is still, ‘Absolutely.’ ”