COMMUNITY VIEWS SPLIT ON PROPOSED PLAN TO DEMOLISH HISTORIC DESCHÂTELETS CHAPEL

Chapel Wing, Deschâtelets Building | John Dance, The Mainstreeter

Thursday, June 11, 2020

The Deschâtelets Building at 225 Scholastic Drive was purchased along with the Oblate Lands by The Regional Group in 2014 to be developed as part of Greystone Village. An important landmark in Old Ottawa East and to Roman Catholics in Ottawa, the Deschâtelets Building was constructed in 1885. The Chapel Wing was added in 1950 and designed by Montreal-based modernist architect Louis J. Lapierre. Excerpts from The Mainstreeter article follow:

THE MAINSTREETER, By John Dance

The community faces a dilemma: whether to support The Regional Group's proposed demolition of the chapel wing of the historic Deschâtelets building to pave the way for the repurposing of the remainder of the building as a new school and community centre and, possibly, affordable housing for seniors, or else fight to preserve the chapel wing.

Regional's application to demolish the heritage-designated chapel wing will be considered by the City of Ottawa's Built Heritage Sub-Committee this summer. The sub-committee's advice will be considered by the Planning Committee in the context of the rezoning request of the Conseil des Écoles Catholiques du Centre-Est (CECCE) for an elementary school, community centre and other specified uses within the main part of the Deschâtelets building.

The sale of the main part of the Deschâtelets building to CECCE is conditional on the approval of the proposed demolition.

In 2011, the City approved various heritage designations for Deschâtelets and some of the adjacent lands. While only the exterior of the main building was "protected," both the exterior and the interior of the chapel were given protection.

The chapel wing was built in 1950 and, as noted by John J. Stewart, who wrote the demolition application report, "The chapel interior is a very stark, handsome expression. The monochrome interior, angular planes of the arches picked up in the glazing pattern of windows and pattern of tiles in central portion contribute to its distinct skeletal character. The very slender exaggerated forms of the modernist sculpture help to establish a respectful hierarchy."

Over the last five years, Regional has sought a purchaser for the Deschâtelets but was unsuccessful until CECCE became interested. Along with CECCE's interest came the proposal that the City could secure a new community centre within the main building with an adjacent gymnasium serving both the school and the community.

The Community Activities Group (CAG) of Old Ottawa East, which currently runs Old Town Hall as the community centre and would also be in charge of a new community centre if it were located in Deschâtelets, supports Regional's application, noting "the demolition of the chapel wing is counterbalanced by the public use (community centre, grade school and affordable housing for seniors) of the original north-south wing and the preservation of the most significant heritage element of the building - its front facade." 

However, in several Zoom online meetings held over the last month, a number of residents have questioned the justification for demolishing one of Old Ottawa East's few heritage structures. In a follow-up to one such meeting, resident David Henderson emailed: "The [heritage] designation is very clear, [and] the 1950 Chapel, including the interior, is identified as a key attribute. This does not translate into an open season for demolition. The Chapel, both architecturally and by function, complements the other components of the building and should be respected in this way."

Similarly, during these calls, former Old Ottawa East Community Association (OOECA) planning chair Paul Goodkey questioned the demolition application's contention that the chapel wing has significant structural deficiencies.

Barry Padolsky, who was involved in the initial heritage assessment of Deschâtelets in 2011 and now sits on the Built Heritage Sub-Committee, told The Mainstreeter the key question in considering the proposed demolition of the chapel wing is whether the community benefits and positive contributions of the "adaptive reuse" of the main Deschâtelets building will balance the loss fo the chapel wing. He also noted the importance of the community getting assurance that the school and community centre will really happen.

Hobin Architecture's preliminary design drawings show the proposed adaptive reuse of the Deschâtelets building. The scheme assumes the inclusion of the community centre, which will occupy the north half of level one with a link to a gymnasium to be constructed as a separate building to the north of the Deschâtelets. The school will occupy the south half of level one and all of levels 2 and 3. The school will have its own internal link to the community centre gym from level two. It is proposed that the top two floors will be converted to affordable housing owned and operated by Ottawa Community Housing.

[Editor's Note: Full disclosure - on the issue of the proposed new school and community centre, writer John Dance has represented OOECA in discussions iwth the City, CECCE, the Community Activities Group and The Regional Group].

CLICK HERE to read this article in its entirety on The Mainstreeter website.