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Starting from scratch on Fanshawe remodel

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by Mary Baxter last update:Sep 26, 2014

Building in one of the most developed areas of a city is always difficult. But the remodelling of a building that will be a key component of Fanshawe College’s new downtown London, Ontario campus presents a management challenge like few others.
Fanshawe College is remodelling this 50,000-square-foot former bank to house its theatre and digital media programs.
Fanshawe College is remodelling this 50,000-square-foot former bank to house its theatre and digital media programs. - Photo: Fanshawe College

“I’ve done a lot of new (construction) and I’ve done a lot of renovations,” says Dennis Richardson, project manager for Tonda Construction Limited, the general contractor involved in the remodel. “It’s one of the more difficult projects that I’ve been on.”

During renovations you can usually tap into existing resources such as heating and electricity, he explains. “We’re basically starting from scratch with a building six floors in the air already.”

Fanshawe acquired the 50,000-square-foot former bank in 2011 to house its theatre and digital media programs. It’s one of two buildings that will make up the college’s downtown campus. The college has earmarked $18.7 million for acquiring and redeveloping the building — about half of the campus development’s $40 million budget, says Shawn Harrington, the college’s senior manager of facilities planning and development.

Harrington says that while project architects Tillmann Ruth Robinson designed the remodel, London firm Mycon Construction stripped the building to a shell. “The majority of the systems had exceeded their useful life,” he explains, noting the building was erected in the mid 1970s. “There had been several renovations.”

Remodelling began in September. It includes replacing the exterior glazing and the curtainwall, adding a new roof and mechanical systems, refurbishing elevators and upgrading the sprinkler system and fire alarms. Insulation and new siding for the building’s western elevation will improve its energy performance.

Everyone knew from the start that the city planned to improve an adjacent walkway while the remodelling was taking place, with the goal of having its project complete in time for the World Figure Skating Championships in March 2013. The competition will occur a block away and the city has also asked Fanshawe to have its building’s exterior mostly finished by then, Harrington says.

“It is going to be a challenge.”

The property is in a busy area and located on Dundas Street, one of the city’s main traffic arteries. Moreover, access to the east side of the building is hindered by the city’s walkway project.

Richardson says the key to managing is careful scheduling. Because they cannot disrupt bus traffic, deliveries to the front must take place early in the morning and unloaded quickly. There’s a staging area at the back of the building that can be used for some deliveries throughout the day. Anything that involves cranes and road closures, such as lifting cooling equipment, will take place on Sundays or late evenings.

The contractors have adopted a top-down approach to meet the competition deadline. There’s a lot of work to be done to the main floor, which will house a 100-seat theatre with catwalks. So, to gain time for the exterior, it was decided to push the main floor development to the end, Richardson says.

Because of the unusual approaches, many trades have to work on site in stops and starts. Weekly meetings are held “so we stay on board with everybody,” Richardson says. Fanshawe and city project consultants also meet regularly to co-ordinate activities.

Despite the challenges, there was only one big surprise, says Harrington: the building’s electrical service was less than anticipated.

Energy saving and sustainability initiatives are making up for the power shortfall, he says. They’re using LED lighting throughout and the theatre’s lighting is energy efficient. Motion sensors will control lighting and the HVAC system. Natural light will be maximized.

Once done, there will be room enough for 450 to 500 of the 1,000 students that will eventually occupy the entire downtown campus. Completion is slated for September 2013, the beginning of the next school year.

last update:Sep 26, 2014

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