Walls installed, lane closed as building could collapse

A vacant heritage building in Lowertown Ottawa is in danger of collapsing, according to an engineer's report to the city, so it has ordered the landlord to pay for hoarding while one lane will be closed along two roads.

Former girls' school at 287 Cumberland St. should be demolished, city urged in 2005

An unsafe downtown building is just one of Ottawa's empty heritage sites. 2:46

The City of Ottawa is ordering a landlord to pay for hoarding that has been installed around a downtown heritage building as engineers say it is in danger of collapsing.

Groupe Claude Lauzon Ltée. owns the building at 287 Cumberland St., which intersects with Murray Street.

The city's chief building official, Arlene Gregoire issued orders Monday to "make safe and remediate the site" after an engineer's report found the building could crumble.

"We arranged for city forces to put up the barricades in the interim because the danger was immediate and we didn't know how fast the property owner would move on taking those steps," Gregoire said.

The city has closed the sidewalk along Cumberland, as well as one lane of traffic along Cumberland and Murray streets. The hoarding ordered by the city, as well as the lane closure, could extend to include the shorter, adjacent building on Murray Street if 287 Cumberland collapses on top of it.

The area's councillor, Mathieu Fleury, said he was not surprised by this news.

"There wasn't an investment, no one took care of the building. It's been an eyesore in the neighbourhood forever," he said.

Demolition suggested multiple times

The building, a two-storey brick structure, is the former site of the Our Lady Girls' School, first built in 1904. It was re-roofed in 2000 and there was a permit to convert the building to apartments that year, according to a City of Ottawa staff report from March 2005.

That report also ordered the building be demolished because it remained unoccupied, as did an earlier report years earlier. There have been other ideas for the building's renovation but they have not come to fruition.

"Right now, it's just sitting and rotting away," said Roly Lacasse, a mechanic who works across the street from 287 Cumberland.

According to the city, the owner's engineering firm has also recommended it be demolished, but it is a heritage building and the landlord would need city council's permission to demolish it under the Heritage Act.

All the costs would be incurred by Groupe Claude Lauzon Ltée, which has until mid-February to explain how to prevent the building from collapsing.

Calls to Groupe Claude Lauzon Ltée for comment were not returned.

'Dozens' of other empty problem buildings

Fleury said there's no framework in place to deal with dozens of empty buildings city staff have identified, unless they're deemed unsafe.

"In Ontario there is no legislation that requires a property owner to maintain a property to a standard of occupancy," he said.

"If they decide to mothball a building they have to meet minimum standards to protect the general public."

Gregoire said Ottawa's looking at bylaws such as one in Hamilton that requires building owners to keep heating their buildings, which will slow its deterioration.