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Art gallery project in Sarnia, Ont. preserves historic façade

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by Peter Kenter

Steel is rising through the centre of a heritage building in downtown Sarnia, Ont.
Lambton Gallery project in downtown Sarnia, Ontario
Lambton Gallery project in downtown Sarnia, Ontario

Steel is rising through the centre of a heritage building in downtown Sarnia, Ont.

It’s the skeleton of the new Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery, which will replace the old Gallery Lambton. The $9.1-million County of Lambton project is being built inside the footprint of the Thom building, (also known as Saks, after a former retailer) built in 1893.

The design for the new building will see the brick façade of the original structure completely preserved. The steel skeleton for the new gallery will rise one storey above the old building, then extend next door into the second storey of a CIBC bank office. The third floor of the gallery will be finished in light stainless steel to reduce its visual impact as it reflects cloud and sky. The new building will offer a total floor space of 18,400 square feet, more than twice the size of the existing gallery.

The general contractor for the project is PCR Contractors Inc. of Windsor. Structural steel work is being handled by Maple Industries of Chatham, Ont. The construction budget allocated to the project is $5.6 million plus a 10 per cent contingency. Funding for the project comes from several sources, including a $3-million allocation from the federal government’s Economic Stimulus Program, and $2.6 million from the County of Lambton, some of which was derived from an “Investing in Ontario Infrastructure Grant” to the county from the province.

Construction was also supported by a $1.5-million gift from donors Judith and Norman Alix, and $1 million in donations from other sources.

Preparation for construction began last January with the drilling of bore holes and site investigation. Steel bracing and concrete counterweights were placed around the perimeter of the historic building to stabilize the exterior walls, and the interior was then demolished. The second-floor interior of the neighbouring bank building was also demolished.

“Part of the demolition included removal and preservation of a heritage staircase in the Thom building, which will be installed in the finished art gallery,” says Dereck Holmes, project co-ordinator with Lambton. “Each piece was numbered, photographed and taken from the site for storage.”

Interior demolition work was completed in July.

“Building the interior footings and foundations near the old facade was complicated work,” says Holmes. “We had to work in stages all the way around the perimeter.”

Next came underground plumbing and the interior cores for the stairwells and elevator shaft. Steel construction began in January, with the delivery of structural steel members up to 55 feet in length. Pre-cast concrete floor panels were installed simultaneously.

When the project is finished, the building façade will be firmly tied into the structural steel. The building is scheduled for substantial completion in March, in keeping with requirements for the federal component of funding.

“We’re on schedule,” says Robert Tremain, Lambton’s cultural services general manager. “With the weather holding out, I think we’ll be just fine.”

The gallery is expected to open its exhibition space in 2012.

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