Constructing a co-op
After so many years of planning, it was very exciting when the plans began to become a reality. Amongst my many responsibilities was to attend regular site meetings along with LCDF representatives, the Construction Supervisor, the architect and various sub-contractors. I learned about the quality of concrete, shoring, hoarding, conduits, caissons, winter heat and many more factors of constructing a building. I was enthralled at the coordination of excavation and concrete trucks working on precision time schedules.
I did regular site inspections and wore a hard-hat and construction boots, which were fashionably not in vogue. I became aware of the location of all the components of the co-op two buildings. E.g. electrical, sump pumps, heating and air exchange units, plumbing etc.
We made an agreement with Mr. Lopresti regarding his future building plans on the north east corner of Church and Lombard. On the south / west corner of our underground parking there is a portion that is cinder blocks versus poured concrete. We also had to enter into an agreement with him for the time we needed to use part of the parking lot to raze the old building.
The site meetings were exciting as each phase began. I was mesmerized the day the crane was being installed. The most exciting day was when the crane operator accidently hit the site trailer with a steel beam. The trailer only moved slightly but enough to scare all of us for a split second. We laughed afterward but at the time, all in the trailer together yelled “What the h*ll just happened?
Regrets are that we didn’t have enough time to put a time capsule into the foundation but in the centre of the basement concrete is a loony which if memory serves me correctly was a donation from Vito Ferri, the construction supervisor.
As I referenced earlier, Board members waned in interest, and from time to time there might only be Donna and I, or a couple more members in attendance for meetings. Regardless, we became quite productive as it gave us time to be a more hands-on Board where we discussed what we would like to see implemented to the interior of the buildings which included the units, common areas, party room, office and laundry area.
It was at such meeting that Marilyn Proutt discovered that the south building had a back door (move in door) where the north building did not. We contacted the architect and the construction manager and the plans were modified for the north building to have a second door but on the side of the building based on our architectural design. Our timing was impeccable because had that been identify later, the construction crew could not have accommodated it.
Other ideas were formed such as not having painted cinder block hallways as they gave the building a sense of non-completion. We wanted carpet and wallpaper in the hallways to give it a homey appeal. We insisted on parquet floors throughout the units and had to prove they were in the original specs.
It was at the Board meeting of June 19th, 1991 that we raised the issue of wanting cameras for security purposes as well as lobby inter-coms and key access only to the underground in the elevators.
The camera issue became a bone of contention and a three year debate between the MOH and me. The Province stated they were a luxury item and not necessary. Where I argued they were a necessity for the present and certainly the future. The Province was adamant that ‘they did not want to see camera’s’ with the finished product. They were firm in their decision that they were not required and definitely not in the budget. In an effort to come to an impasse that we could both live with they allowed us to run conduits as the cable and electrical wiring was about to be installed. However, they made it very clear, it was only for future use.
Near the end of construction, I was able to secure a donation for 4 cameras. The Province was not impressed with my tenacity and determination regardless if they were donated or not.
At the official opening ceremonies, the external courtyard camera was nicely wrapped in a BIG black plastic bag to which we attached a nice big red velvet bow.” It didn’t take much time for the MOH to be drawn to the decorated spectacle for all to notice. When asked, I replied “My understanding was that you did not want to see cameras and I have respectfully honoured your request”. Regardless of the fact that I informed them they were donated, the representative was not amused, but I certainly was. I have always been grateful to our ‘donator’.
While addressing the budget, the co-op provided an additional amount of our budget to enhance the needs of Pilot Place as their original specs did not allow for individual washroom facilities for each unit. Regardless, we handled our funds well and were able to meet all of our buildings requirements. MOH actually commended us when they did a budget review. All the credit goes to LCDF, the construction crew and the architects.
We also fought long and hard for units to not have individual electrical meters for hydro, heat and air-conditioning. The Provincial plan to offer free cable instead was effectively argued and won.
Small enhancements became the norm when everyone put their thinking caps on. We asked for electrical plugs in storage rooms, neutral kitchen cupboards in white versus the standard dark wood. We asked for refrigerators and stoves to be on casters. We asked for key fobs as we have now, but were turned down, again because they were yet to be proven successful and perceived to be too costly. We asked for door handles that one could use more easily instead of round ones and a lot of other small but useful recommendation to make living more easy right down to the knobs on the kitchen and bathroom cabinets.
This is only a sampling of how much thought and effort were put into the project. More than once we were informed that where other Boards seemed to be a ‘rubber stamped – go with the standards’ Boards, we were committed to being hands-on all the way.
We were also security conscious from day one, thus the request for the cameras. We worked with TPS (Sgt. Baldissara) who was impressed with our key plan for the underground and in the elevators as well as our intention to have lobby cameras. He tested the garage door timing and again commended us on how we had given serious thought to our safety concerns and especially because we intended to house women at risk.
Also to be factored in was at the time of our construction there were limited community concerns on our part as there were no shelters in the area. It was only in the late fall of 1994 did the shelter open at the old morgue site. It was opened without any community input, advanced warning or fanfare. Other shelters then opened such as 60 Richmond and Gateway based on our Wards’ bylaws to allow group homes and shelters within its boundaries.
Major obstacles during excavation
The first obstacle we ran against was that the soil was contaminated. I still have a sealed jar with some of the soil that was extracted. It took days for the soil to be treated and to be approved as safe to excavate.
Then an even more serious concern. While excavating, skeletal remains were found and the digging came to an abrupt halt. The fear was if they were human remains, it very might be we were digging on sacred aboriginal burial grounds. It was interesting to witness men and women covered head to toe in white suits carefully removing the remains and taking them to the Coroner’s office for official identification. We knew that if the results were human then the project would be shut down for a significant time if not permanently. Within days, the fossils were identified as animal remains and the excavation continued.