Work to stabilize the battered Magee House in Hintonburg and reopen the sidewalk in front of the property will begin soon — but on exactly which day the city still cannot say.
The western wall of the historic stone home partially collapsed back on July 24, 2018. The nearly 140-year-old heritage building was to be demolished in November, but it remained standing at 1119 Wellington St. W. throughout the winter after its owner decided at the eleventh hour that he wanted to save it.
The city’s built heritage subcommittee received an update from staff working on the Magee House predicament on Tuesday, who said they issued a permit specifically for the “structural stabilization” of the building mid-February and have been preparing for the anticipated construction work since then.
All signs are pointing to that stabilization work beginning “in a matter of days,” but the weather could affect those plans, said John Buck, the City of Ottawa’s manager of building inspection and enforcement.
On top of that, the stone rubble masonry is “currently under quite a heavy layer of ice and snow,” he said.
The preliminary repairs will include bracing the west wall that gave in and covering the exposed wall edges, work that is likely to take weeks, Buck said.
“Months … hopefully not, from everybody’s end,” he said in response to a question from Jeff Leiper, the councillor for the area where Magee House is located.
Once Magee House is stabilized, the city will be able to reopen the sidewalk and on-street parking spots directly in front of the structure, which have been inaccessible for months.
It will be a welcome development for residents and local business owners who are desperate to get their sidewalk back.
‘A constant thorn in the side of businesses’
Dennis Van Staalduinen, executive director of the Wellington West Business Improvement Area, described the situation as a “constant thorn in the side of the businesses” on the popular strip who claim they’re losing business because of the decline in pedestrian traffic.
“The thing I hear every day is the impatience,” Van Staalduinen said following Tuesday’s update at city hall. “It’s very hard for the average business owner … to understand why is it taking seven, eight months for to happen.”
For his part, Van Staalduinen said city staff have been briefing him every week since November, and through that, he’s learned more about the “nuances” and “challenges” the city faces on this file.
“I have a lot of sympathy for what they’re going through … but again, that pressure every day that I face is business owners saying: ‘When? How soon?'” he said.
“We’re at a point now where things seem to be happening, where progress seems to be being made, and it’s all out of our hands so we’re just praying that things move forward.”
Stabilization first step towards ‘substantial rebuild’
Buck told the built heritage subcommittee he couldn’t provide a more precise schedule for the stabilization work at this time, but he did report that Magee House will require a bit more work than previously thought, which will require crews to do some extra “selective demolition.”
He said that additional work was identified last week during a pre-construction meeting with the owner and engineer involved in the project but described it as “fairly minor … mostly hand work.”
The stabilization of the building is an interim step. Once it’s finished, the “substantial rebuild” can begin, Buck said — but it’s still unknown how, when or if that would happen.
The city expects to have to issue at least one other permit — perhaps more — to get Magee House fully rebuilt and safe for occupancy.
In response to a question from Coun. Riley Brockington about whether Magee House is structurally safe at the moment, Buck said staff continue to monitor the building. Recent reports concluded the house “isn’t prone to collapse in its current condition,” he said.
No one was injured when the wall crumbled last July.
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