Committee split over chapel demolition at Oblates property

 Deschâtelets Building / Photo: City of Ottawa

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

CBC Ottawa, by Kate Porter

A city committee that deals with heritage buildings was evenly divided Tuesday over a plan to alter a former school for priests in Old Ottawa East to make way for a present-day French Catholic school.

The 4-4 tie vote was unusual, with municipal politicians on one side and citizen appointees on the other.

Four city councillors on the built heritage subcommittee — Rawlson King, Riley Brockington, Catherine McKenney and Scott Moffatt — supported Regional Group's heritage application for the Deschâtelets Building because the end result could lead to much-needed amenities for the neighbourhood.

Not only might the heritage building be home to a future elementary school for the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est, which has conditionally bought it from Regional Group, but it could also house a new city community centre and affordable housing.

The four citizen committee members — Carolyn Quinn, Barry Padolsky, Amanda Conforti and Jennifer Halsell — voted against, however, because they thought it premature to allow Regional Group to tear down a wing of a heritage building that holds a former chapel.

Coun. Rick Chiarelli was not online to break the tie, so the issue will simply rise to planning committee on Thursday with the built heritage subcommittee having taken no position. At the same meeting, planning committee will deal with the rezoning to allow the building to be used as a school.

Conditional sale to school board

The Deschâtelets Building, with its long driveway to Main Street, once housed a school for Oblates missionaries, and has been a landmark in the area for more than a century.

Regional Group bought the land from the Oblates five years ago, and has since been building its Greystone Village residential development.

Regional Group's Kelly Rhodenizer said the company spent five years trying to find the right use for the building, such as a retirement home or live-work space. It finally sold the building to the school board in 2019 on the assumption the chapel wing would be demolished. The chapel was too narrow to be of much use, and could also have structural issues if converted, she said.

The French Catholic school board currently rents a building for Au Coeur d'Ottawa elementary school just 400 metres north on Main Street. If its purchase of the Deschâtelets Building goes through, the school would occupy the second and third floors, sharing the main floor with a community centre. A stand-alone gym would also be added.

The school board is also in talks with Ottawa Community Housing about using the top two floors for affordable housing, said Luc Poulin, the board's director of facilities.

Tradeoff for community space

Many people beseeched the built heritage subcommittee to preserve the chapel wing, built in the 1950s after the original structure.

But Ron Rose said the Old Ottawa East Community Association has decided the promise of getting a permanent school, community centre and gym, and possible affordable housing outweigh that loss in a neighbourhood where community space is "woefully inadequate."

The area has just one wheelchair-accessible meeting room that can hold 45 people, or eight during COVID-19, he said.

Rose added the caveat the community will only support the demolition of the chapel wing if the City of Ottawa commits to building a community centre in a "timely way."

Similarly, councillors Menard and McKenney asked city staff to provide firmer details about how much of the building might be turned over for community use, and how to ensure affordable housing, before the file goes to planning committee and then full council on Sept. 23.

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Heritage Ottawa attended the meeting to oppose demolition of the chapel wing.