A former Smiths Falls water treatment plant with two heritage designations was severely damaged in a May fire. Now, local officials of the eastern Ontario town are weighing demolition versus stabilization, which both have a “similar order of magnitude,” according to an engineering report.
G. Douglas Vallee Limited presented its structural pathology engineering report to the Smiths Falls council in late July. It estimates that the ballpark figure of $500,000 would be a reasonable starting figure for either razing the property or stabilizing it and restoring damaged masonry walls.
The three-storey sandstone building along the Rideau Canal dates back to 1868 when it was built as a grist mill. The town purchased it in 1910 as a waterworks and made several additions. Ultimately, it was decommissioned in 2010 after providing drinking water for more than a century.
The Smiths Falls Waterworks Building Complex was designated as a heritage property in 1977 for its historic and architectural value.
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“The option to stabilize and restore the masonry improves the safety of the site while protecting the heritage integrity of the buildings,” states the engineering report. “This option is similar (same order of magnitude) yet understandably more expensive than demolition. If there is a foreseeable vision for the future development of this site and the will to preserve the historic structure, this option is feasible and economically responsible in the long term if the heritage value of the site is considered.”
Leaving the Smiths Falls structure as is was not recommended as a course of action, primarily considering that the report states there are “environmental events that could cause partial collapse of the stone masonry wall.”
Redevelopment plans for the historic building had been well underway prior to the spring 2023 fire, the cause of which remains unknown. Plans that had been in the works include maintaining the historic elements of the architecture while converting the site into a wedding and meeting venue, as well as condominiums, with construction starting as soon as 2026.
The Smiths Falls municipal heritage committee has expressed a desire to preserve what is left of the site after the fire.
Local officials had previously commissioned a separate engineering report that had recommended “immediate demolition,” but decided to seek out a second opinion before tearing down the site.
No decision has yet to be made by local officials.