A report on the condition of Champlain Library was finally made public at council’s March 11 regular meeting. The 35-page EVB engineering report on the structural condition of the building located at 94 Main Street East in Vankleek Hill is dated April 2019. A second report was undertaken by architect Pierre J. Tabet, at the request of Lascelles Engineering and Associates, which in turn provided a 75-page structural condition assessment. This second report is dated May 6, 2020 and it, too, was made public for the first time as part of Champlain council’s regular council meeting on March 11.

Rumours have been circulating for the past year or more as “safety issues” were the only explanation offered by Champlain Township for the long-term closure of the library to the public, while staff continued to work inside the building, offering curbside pick-up and virtual programming to library patrons.

Councillor asks for referendum on cost of library repairs

At the March 11 meeting, L’Orignal Councillor André Roy proposed a resolution to consult taxpayers before spending funds on library repairs.

All discussions of these reports and the condition of the library have taken place behind closed doors, he pointed out, suggesting that taxpayers should be contacted by a letter or other means and that a clear question could be asked about whether to proceed with the repairs. Roy further suggested that there might be other options, including having Champlain residents use the Hawkesbury Public Library. Champlain Township currently reimburses residents who purchase library cards to use the Hawkesbury Public Library.

The motion was seconded by Longueuil Councillor Michel Lalonde.

West Hawkesbury Councillor Gerry Miner replied that council had earlier agreed to spend $65,000 to re-brick the east facade of the building and that during recent budget deliberations, a further $150,000 had been budgeted for repairs in 2021.

“I cannot support that motion,” Miner said, adding that other avenues for the library had been explored and were not do-able. Miner was of the opinion that the work should be done.

Roy acknowledged that township funds had been spent and allocated for the future.

“But we are about to spend more,” Roy replied, asking Miner if he would put more about $400,000 into a building that was worth $160,000.

“I don’t think you would spend that kind of money,” Roy added.

Reiterating that the library work and keeping the library had been discussed in camera, Champlain Township Mayor Normand Riopel pointed out that council had decided to keep the building and the library in place.

Vankleek Hill Councillor Peter Barton wanted to clarify that André Roy was asking for a referendum on library repairs.

“I know you said that you felt we took the easy way, but I think we took a financially prudent decision,” Barton said. “I also believe that this group was duly elected to represent the concerns of the public and we need to move forward on this.”

Lalonde and Roy voted in favour of holding a referendum of sorts, but Councillors Gerry Miner, Sarah Bigelow, Troy Carkner, Peter Barton, Jacques Lacelle and Violaine Tittley were not in favour of the motion, so it was defeated.

On Tuesday, Mayor Riopel said that he was happy with council’s decision.

“Sometimes it’s hard for people to understand, but the building codes have changed and so has liability (insurance). We had to close the building to the public or our insurer would not insure it,” Riopel said. Heritage is an investment, according to Riopel, who says that the cost to do all the required work will be “somewhat shy” of the $454,000 estimated, but with the $150,000 investment this year, and the rest of the work spread out over the coming years, it will all get done.

“I think it is the wise choice,” Riopel said.

The brick-facade building was built in 1856 and before being used as a library, the main floor of the building was a bank, while the Masonic Lodge used the second-storey as a meeting space (Members of the Masonic Lodge continue to meet in the space above the library to this day).

The EVB report concludes that the overall condition of the library varies depending upon which building element is being evaluated. It outlines the primary deficiencies as follows:

Design reviews are required for the second and roof-level timber structures to ensure adequate capacity to support the Ontario Building Code required “assembly area” floor live loads and roof snow loads.

The brick exterior is in poor condition (this report pre-dates replacement of the brick on the east wall of the library) and is continuing to deteriorate each year. Several options, including adding siding, are presented in the EVB report, which noted that the most heavily deteriorated areas should be repaired immediately.

Fire separations are not in place to comply with 2012 Ontario Building Code requirements.

Life safety measures and exiting from both the basement and second level need improvement. For example, given that the second floor is an assembly space and  it was noted that the travel distance of 15 metres (for an assembly occupancy) does not comply with existing building code. EVB recommended additional review for the provision of an additional alternate means of egress, such as an exterior steel stair located on the west elevation utilizing one of the existing windows for an exit door.

EVB provides an estimate of foundation and concrete ramp/steps repairs totaling $13,500, wall, roof and floor framing (structural) work of $13,500, a fire separate and secondary egress from the basement at $70,000, wall repairs for the ground floor at $2,500, fire separation, secondary egress, exit signage, wall repairs, fire-rated attic access and new flooring (in the Masonic Lodge kitchen) and painting at $66,500.

Exterior work, including brick remediation, sill replacement and sealant application on some of the older brick was estimated at $250,000. Since this report, the brick on the east wall of the library has been replaced. In the report, the brick remediation for the north/east wall was estimated at $200,000. The work was recently completed at a cost of about $65,000.

EVB report outlines $434,500 in repair costs, from joists and structural repairs to drywall, a new kitchen floor and brick work

The cost of all component repairs, as presented by EVB, totals $434,500 (that includes $200,000 for brick remediation on the north/east building facade; the east facade work was completed at a cost of $65,000 since the issuing of this report in April 2019).

Repair price tag starts at $109,800 according to one report

A report prepared by architect Pierre J. Tabet, was included with a structural report prepared by Lascelles Engineering to comprise a 108-page analysis of the building. The cost estimate of immediate and short-term work totals $109,800, including joist work, the installation of new support posts with footings, the reinstatement of a load bearing wall and other beam work, totalling $77,000, along with short-term investigative requirements related to joist/beam hanger installation, drywall repair and leak investigation totalling an addition $14,500. The conclusion of the Lascelles Engineering report outlines issues with the central supporting line in the building. The conclusion in the report indicates that there are issues with the floor joists (second floor) in terms of beam support, floor span and loading.

Additional strengthening of the structure is required

Additional strengthening of the structure overall is required in order to ensure sufficient capacity for the building’s current uses, the report says.

The report concludes that the structure “has been found to be in very poor condition.” Damaged or deteriorated floor system members in the basement and underdesigned supporting frames were mentioned. A preliminary review says that it appears as though overloading of the under-designed floor and support system has contributed to the deformation of the structure along the building centreline. The report points to the aesthetic damages seen within the wall finishes on the second floor and says that continued overloading could eventually result in localized or global failure of the structure.

“The defects observed in the main floor system and the structural deficiencies established through the preliminary review have established that the structure in its current form and condition is unsuitable for continued use of any kind.”

The report recommends completion of repairs before reopening and recommends further investigation of lateral loading (earthquake, wind loads).

The report also mentions that because seats for almost 105 persons were observed on the second storey (the Masonic Lodge meeting space), five washrooms would be required (two for men and three for women). Women are not eligible for membership in the Masonic Lodge at this time. One washroom for each sex can serve only 50 persons, according to the report. At the moment, there is only one washroom for the entire second floor. Additional recommendations included adding a second stair railing as the current railing does not meet the minimum required height. In addition, the heights of the stair risers (to the second-storey meeting space) are conforming but are irregular.