Part of an Ottawa stadium has been closed to the public after cracks were found in the concrete structure, and Mayor Larry O'Brien says the city may take that as an opportunity to consider redeveloping the surrounding park.
The concrete stands at Frank Clair Stadiumin Lansdowne Park supported thousands of soccer fans during the FIFA U-20 World Cup this summer, but a decision made Wednesday to cordon off the lower south sideas a "precautionary move," said Doug Moore, the city manager in charge of the stadium.
"With what we hear about in other areas of the country, in terms of some of the structural problems that have existed, they [inspectors] thought it would be prudent … from a risk-management perspective to not allow occupancy of the area," Moore said, after telling city councillors about the discovery.
Engineers discovered the stress cracks in the vertical support columns and horizontal beams of the 47-year-old structure during a routine inspection just a few weeks after a sold-out quarter final between Argentina and Mexico at the facility, Moore said.
The stadium seats almost 29,000 people, and is the former home of the Ottawa Renegades CFL football team.
Engineers are to submit a more detailed report next week about what danger, if any, the cracks represent.
Coun. Clive Doucet, who represents Capital Ward, where the stadium is located, said it's probably impossible to know when the cracks appeared, but the important thing is that the structure remained sound during the FIFA U-20 World Cup games.
"I thank God that we got through this safely," he said.
He added that on the upside, the discovery highlights the sorry state of Ottawa's older inner-city infrastructure and might be the catalyst needed to get something done about it before serious incidents occur on the scale of the overpass collapse in Laval, Que., in Sept. 2006 that killed five people.
'Right now it’s 40 acres of parking lot with a number of older buildings and the only thing we can really be proud of is the old cattle castle there.' — Mayor Larry O'Brien
David Lau, a civil engineering professor at Carleton University, said concrete has been used as a building material for hundreds of years and concrete structures are typicallydesigned to last 50 to 75 years.
But he added, "There’s no expiration date... It’s a matter of how well we maintain those structures to make sure they don’t deteriorate beyond what we expect."
Mayor proposes review
O'Brien told CBC Thursday he thinks the closure is an opportunity to think aboutwhat should be done with the 16-hectare property in central Ottawa for the next 50 years.
"This is an excellent time for a review," he said. "Quite frankly, it’s time we did something with Lansdowne Park … Right now it’s 40 acres of parking lot with a number of older buildings and the only thing we can really be proud of is the old cattle castle there."
The "cattle castle" is a nickname for the Aberdeen Pavilion, a Victorian heritage buildingthat has housed agricultural and other exhibitions since the10th annual Central Canada Exhibition in 1898.
After the city receives the final engineering report next week, it will likely spend the next six to nine months discussing various proposals for the future of the park, O'Brien said. Headded that until the city receives the report,it's too early to say whether the cracked stands will need to be torn down.
David Summers, who has lived in the nearby Glebe neighbourhood for 12 years, said he thinks the park could be put to better use, now that Ottawa no longer has a professional football team to play there.
"I think for a downtown core that doesn't have that much support for any kind of team, then we should do more with it because a lot of it's going to waste," he said.
But Moore, the city's manager of venture properties, said it's important to keep the stadium.
"Having a stadium of that nature is an added boon and a benefit to a city," he said. "You know if we hadn'thad that, we wouldn't even qualify to getFIFA. So it's an important piece of infrastructure and an important asset for the city I believe."
In the meantime, the city is working to find alternate arrangements for some events scheduled to take place at the stadium.
University of Ottawa football games will go ahead at the stadium as scheduled, using the only the north stands in the stadium. They were built more recently and were deemed structurally sound, according to a university news release issued Thursday.