U of Ottawa buys former landfill for new campus

The University of Ottawa's health sciences centre will soon be joined by a second satellite campus — a six-hectare parcel of land on a former landfill.

The University of Ottawa's health sciences centre will soon be joined by a second satellite campus.

The university confirmed Tuesday that it is buying a six-hectare parcel of a former landfill on Lees Avenue— complete with five buildings— from Algonquin College for $7 million.

The university's vice-president of university relations, David Mitchell, said the university's enrollment continues to grow even as its existing 29.4 hectares, especially its main downtown campus, are "bursting at the seams" with 37,500 students, including many graduate students who need research space in addition to classrooms.
The University of Ottawa's David Mitchell said a third campus is a 'safety valve' for the university's space pressures. ((CBC))

The downtowncampus is hemmed in by the Rideau Canal and existing urban development, leaving it with no room to expand.

"But this third campus for the University of Ottawa really represents a safety valve for those kinds of space pressures and needs over the next generation," Mitchell said, adding that the location of the land was key.

"It's quite adjacent, just across the Queensway from our main downtown campus. That's very attractive to us."

The land, former home to an Algonquin College campus, is downtown, near a transit station and the Queensway, with a view of the Rideau River.

Nevertheless, it was on the market for four years without an offer and sold for $3 million less than the asking pricebecauseit is a brownfield, or contaminated former industrial site. Such sites are often costly to clean up and develop.

The land purchased by the University of Ottawa is near its downtown campus and includes five existing buildings. ((CBC))

Part of the Lees Avenue site was a landfill in the early 1900s and there are concerns that coal tar waste from a former heavy industrial site next door may have leaked into the soil as well.

Mitchell said the university hired environmental engineers tothe test soil and thinks the cleanup will be affordable.

"We've taken a close look at the property … and we've convinced ourselves that the challenges represented on a portion of the site— only a portion of the 15 acres that we're talking about here — are manageable."

He added that the university will begin using the five existing buildings in the fall of 2008, but does not plan to develop the contaminated sites for several years, providing time to clean things up.