January 16, 2017

Building a new home for the Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG)

Imagine three different clients and three separate contracts that reflect two different approaches to project management, all on the same job.

“Normally when we have a project (with multiple parties) we always have a sponsor or one main person we deal with, so we don’t have to deal with different clients all the time,” says Stephane Gaucher, EBC projects director – building.

With clients wanting to become more hands-on in multi-development projects, negotiating separate contracts is becoming the solution, he says.

“We have two new projects in Montreal starting that could be almost the same way.”

The $110 million Ottawa project includes building a new home for the Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) and renovating the Arts Court heritage building that is the gallery’s current home, as well as constructing a 23-storey tower that includes a boutique hotel on 12 floors and, above the hotel, 11 floors of condominiums. EBC’s clients include the city and two private Quebec-based developers: Groupe Germain Hotels and DevMcGill. EBC’s website lists its design-build partners on the project as Quebec-based architects Regis Cote et Associes and engineer firms Pasquin St-Jean et associes and Dupras Ledoux Ingenieurs.

The development was in the works for a while, motivated by the gallery’s cramped quarters and lacklustre exhibition space in a building destined to be a courthouse when it was built in the 1880s.

“It has worked for them (the gallery community) but they really always wanted something that is their own and is purpose-built for what they do and large enough to show more of their collection,” says Richard Fouchard, the city’s project manager for infrastructure services.

The gallery’s departure from Arts Court adds expansion opportunity for the 20-plus arts organizations clustered there.

With vacant land in its pocket east of the Arts Court, the city reached out to the private sector to create a mixed-use development. The request for proposals closed in June 2014 and it was anticipated the commercial close for the deal between all of the parties would take place in September of the same year, says Fouchard.

Under that timeline, November 2016 was the original deadline for construction completion for the gallery and Arts Court redevelopment. Negotiations took longer than anticipated, he says, and construction actually began in June 2015.

EBC holds a draw-build lump sum contract for the city’s portion of the project, a project management contract with Germain and a guaranteed maximum price arrangement with DevMcGill, the condominium developers, that Gaucher describes as similar to project management.

“They’re looking at all the prices, all the bids…They are always with us on the negotiation,” he says.

Each client has a different set of plans.

“We had to co-ordinate with all the clients to make sure all of their needs and expectations of the buildings are reached. Each one has different needs and focus for their projects,” Gaucher says.

Since they share the same footprint, the two private developers inevitably will share some of the tower building features, such as stairwells, elevators for safety, alarm systems and emergency generators. But their ventures have different end markets and so the private developers are advancing beyond cosmetic features into areas such as mechanical systems to create attractive environments for their customers.

One of the biggest practical challenges so far, say both Fouchard and Gaucher, was the excavation to accommodate two levels of parking beneath the complex’s tower. Excavators had to blast through bedrock to create the space in an area banked on one side by the Arts Court and on the other a light rail transit (LRT) tunnel under construction.

They relied on seismograph machines placed in nearby buildings and the LRT tunnel to monitor vibrations, Fouchard says.

“We had minor things in the heritage building, a few little cracks, nothing major,” he adds.

As with all city buildings, the public sector component must meet LEED Silver or better.

The gallery has seven levels; not all are full floors. Included in the 4,006-square-metre facility are four galleries, two project spaces, collection storage, a cafe, gallery shop, studio workshop and a 250-seat multipurpose room. Also, in partnership with the University of Ottawa, which will become a tenant, the facility will house a 120-seat black-box theatre and four theatre classrooms.

Toronto-based KPMB (Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg) Architects and heritage architect Barry Padolsky Associates Inc. are the project’s “advocate” architects. They developed the approach to integrating the redevelopment’s public and private features as well as the new build and heritage components.

A statement Fouchard attributes to Mitchell Hall, one of KPMB’s principals, notes the goal was to create “an integrated arts community where the OAG required a clear identity expressed as a luminous box, a beacon for art in the city.”

The vision for the gallery is realized with a box clad in metal mesh that is held off six inches from the building envelope. At the bottom of the mesh are continuous LED lights to illuminate the space between the two elements.

Once complete, the new building will connect to the heritage one on four levels and also to the city on four different streets.

Most of the new art gallery is poured-in-place concrete.

“They did all the exit stairs in precast,” says Fouchard.

By late December the exterior was enclosed and mechanical and electrical rough-ins were underway. Fouchard says the goal is to have the gallery substantially complete in mid September. It will open to the public a month later.

The redevelopment of the Arts Court building begins in early spring with the goal of having it completed at the end of 2017.

By December, 18 of the tower’s 23 floors had been poured with the expectation that that stage would be complete by early January.

The gallery and civic portions roughly $40-million budget and new timeline targets are being met, Fouchard says.

Julie Tremblay, a spokesperson for Groupe Germain, said the hotel construction is also on track.

“We look forward to welcoming our first guests in early 2018,” she writes in an email.

Condo sales in the DevMcGill ArtHaus section of the tower are also well underway.

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