New Brunswick

Restoration of Saint John market tower revealed a structure in 'dire shape'

Extensive flooding that forced the eviction of several tenants from the Saint John City Market tower, while disruptive, was a blessing in disguise, according to the lead architect.

Flood that forced City Market tower's makeover was a 'blessing in disguise' for what was uncovered

The interior of the City Market tower has been gutted, which lead architect Malcolm Boyd said luckily exposed some problems with the building. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Extensive flooding that forced the eviction of several tenants from the Saint John City Market tower, while disruptive, was a blessing in disguise, according to the lead architect.

Work on the final phase of the building's restoration is about to get underway, following a long project to upgrade the exterior.

Under the white tarps, as workers updated the sandstone and brick of the market facade, they were also addressing significant structural integrity issues identified after the flood.

Plans are being finalized to transform the tower into offices for about 60 city hall staff. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

The city approved funding to upgrade the City Market in September 2015. A few months later, a major flood resulted in the complete gutting of the tower. 

Walking through the dusty, barren rooms now occupying the tower, lead architect Malcolm Boyd pointed out some of the former problems. He paused under a new set of bright orange floor joists on the first floor.

When it was decided to gut the tower after the flood, the joists were found to be rotten.

"They were in dire straits," he said. "Any heavy load of those could have had some not nice results."

These plates had to be installed to replace the rusted metal that was supposed to be supporting sandstone blocks on the building's exterior. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

It wasn't the only spot where the then 140-year-old building revealed alarming surprises. Old metal ties installed in the wall had rusted away, and sandstone blocks they were supposed to support were left teetering outside.

"It's a blessing in disguise that we found all these things and the water damage did happen" he said.

During the years, if somebody wanted a door somewhere, they just sort of popped a hole through the brick.- Malcolm Boyd, architect

Now that work has been completed addressing those issues, Boyd said the city has a safe building.

"It was a good thing it happened because the structure was in dire shape and we were able to find it, save it, and now we have a really sound building" he said.

Work is now underway to transform the exposed brick floors into office space for about 60 city employees.

Samir Yammine, with the city, said the plan is to have the work completed by July 2019. The project, which also included upgrading the City Market's roof, windows and elevator, was originally budgeted at about $6 million.

But Yammine said the structural problems discovered during the tower upgrade has pushed the estimate to about $7 million. While efforts are made to keep costs down, he said it was better to discover the problems early.

Boyd said work still needs to be done to bring some doorways up to code after past workers simply punched holes through load-bearing walls. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Boyd said the project will still have to address some issues. To start, the floors are not even, and some of the load-bearing brick walls bore the brunt of shoddy workmanship.

"During the years, if somebody wanted a door somewhere, they just sort of popped a hole through the brick," he said. "And they didn't properly support it at the top." Now they have to bring those things back up to code.

When it's all done, the building will have new elevators, electrical, heating and plumbing systems in place.

But there will still be a focus on maintaining the building's older character, Boyd said.

About the Author

Matthew Bingley is a CBC reporter based in Saint John.

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