City centers are increasingly popular places to live, with 68% of the world’s population projected to live in urban areas by 2050 according to the United Nation’s 2018 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects. People are drawn to the prospect of a quick commute to work, plus the lure of living in a vibrant place with plenty of attractions in a “walkable” environment. Many people are also drawn to the historic character of downtown cores, driving a need to preserve that architectural heritage.
That impetus to build new spaces to fit evolving needs, while preserving what makes a city attractive, is an intricate dance that has been going on for centuries. We see this trend in the growth of the city of Toronto, Canada. What was once a forest of tress less than 200 years ago is now a forest of gleaming office towers, residential high-rises, and industrial complexes. This complex dance between the interest pushing for new development to meet current needs, and the interests focused on preserving existing aspects of the city’s history, is very much in motion in Toronto’s downtown core.
With much of the city’s iconic buildings already lost, each remaining historic building is viewed as a treasure to be preserved. One of these historic gems is the former Westinghouse Canada building in central Toronto, built nearly a century ago when Toronto was the industrial core of the fast-expanding country of Canada. At six stories tall, this former warehouse with its art-deco-style exterior accented with terracotta tiles and brick was designated as a heritage property by the city under the Ontario Heritage Act.
As the area morphed from its industrial past into the current landscape of high-rise residential properties, the 1927 built Westinghouse building became a focus for development. Located just steps from the third-largest English-speaking theatre district in the world, the site is also just a short streetcar ride to the city’s Financial District. The former Westinghouse property was to become the King Blue Condo development by Greenland Group Canada. The development work includes retail space, a hotel in the North Tower, and two residential towers of 44 and 48 stories each.
The dance between the forces pushing for new development, and those seeking to preserve the old, swung into action. One of the agreements made was to preserve the building’s historic terracotta and brick façade, which was encased in a steel frame while the rest of the building was demolished, and a new structure built to incorporate the heritage exterior.
While the prime members of this dance were the architects and property developer on one side, and the City of Toronto on the other, other participants – including Golder – played a vital supporting role. Golder’s role was to help deal with an aspect of the area’s legacy common to many cities – impacted soil and groundwater. Redevelopment of the property could proceed only after there was a clear understanding of the contaminants on site, and a place for dealing with those contaminants.
Setting the stage with a Phase I investigation
Golder was brought into perform a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) enabling development stakeholders to gain the necessary understanding of site conditions and proceed with the project. A Phase I ESA typically involves examining historic records, reviewing previous reports, conducting interviews, and a limited on-site investigation. Its purpose is to determine if a more in-depth appraisal is needed via a Phase II ESA, and to provide guidance for the Phase II.
The Phase I found several Areas of Potential Environmental Concern (APECs) on the property itself and the properties close by. These included use of the site for industrial purposes between at least 1928 and 1964, the former presence of an aboveground storage tank for fuel oil, and subsurface fill of unknown source and chemical quality. Research on historic uses of nearby properties found former automotive repair facilities, gasoline service stations, a printing facility, a fur-cleaning site, dry cleaners, and other property uses with potential impacts to the soil and groundwater, that could have migrated onto the Westinghouse property.
Based on the findings of the Phase I ESA, a Phase II ESA was required to further assess these potential risks of impact.
Phase II fills in the data gaps and defines the remediation needs
The site investigation process began with preparing a Heath and Safety Plan for use by Golder employees and all subcontractors onsite, as well as identification of all buried utilities prior to any invasive work. Boreholes were drilled and wells installed at several locations on the property, with two purposes: obtain soil samples to assess and delineate potential impacts and allow for groundwater sampling. Samples were analyzed for contaminants of potential concern that included metals and inorganics, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, petroleum hydrocarbons, and volatile organic compounds.
A cost-effective Phase III remediation program was implemented
Contaminant concentrations exceeded regulatory standards in the soil, but not the groundwater, which allowed the subsequent remedial activities to be limited to soil excavation for offsite disposal as part of obtaining a Record of Site Condition (RSC) from the regulators necessary for the redevelopment to occur.
Creatively, cost savings were realized for the remedial work by implementing it while excavations were being conducted as part of the new building construction. As the initial stages of excavation, test pits were excavated provide additional delineation on the depth of impacts. Based on this, soil was segregated between clean and impacted. When the extent of impacted soil was reached, confirmation sampling was conducted.
Record of Site Condition sets the stage for redevelopment
The confirmation of acceptable soil conditions following the remediation in 2015, as well as documentation of the overall physical setting of the property – via a Conceptual Site Model – allowed Golder to file a Record of Site Condition (RSC), under the regulations of the Province of Ontario. An RSC sets out the environmental conditions of a property at a particular point in time, based on environmental site assessments conducted by a Qualified Person. An RSC must be filed with the provincial government before property use changes in certain ways. Golder’s work contributed to the RSC process that led to the project receiving a green light to proceed.
With these important elements in place, ground-breaking took place in May 2015, the restored façade was unveiled in 2018, and development was completed in 2019. Today, the Westinghouse building serves as a centerpiece to a development that incorporates two adjacent tower residences. The result is a new space for living and working in Toronto that preserves and highlights the city’s grand architectural heritage.