Nith Valley Construction co-ordinates challenging heritage project in southwest Ontario town
Ontario Construction Report staff writer
A project to restore and redevelop a 140-year-old hotel in New Hamburg, Ontario, has created both opportunities and challenges as many surprises lurk in the centrepiece southwestern-Ontario town building.
Bob Zehr from Nith Valley Construction (2008) Ltd. in New Hamburg, says owner Marie Voisin has set an ambitious goal – to maintain the building’s heritage qualities, while building new retail and housing for the Waterloo-region community of about 8,000 people.
“There have been a lot of structural surprises, once the layers and layers of previous renovation were peeled back,” Zehr said.
Voisin has documented the Imperial Hotel renovation project on her blog, with images showing some of the surprising discoveries in heritage architecture and fixtures.
Not surprisingly, the existing structure doesn’t meet current Ontario Building Code standards. “It certainly wasn’t built by craftsmen,” Zehr said. “For the time it was built in small-town Ontario, it served its purpose.”
The original building was completed in 1872, with additional work in 1902. The hotel’s upper floors have not been in use for decades; they didn’t have electricity or running water. Voisin purchased the building to prevent its total demolition – in more recent years, it had a bar on the ground floor and the upper floors were unused.
Voisin has a passion for history, preservation and restoration, and she has been willing to put more money to the project than a conventional developer building from scratch.
The project combines new construction and restoration, with a new internal structural steel frame to hold the heritage building together and meet current construction standards, Zehr said. It will house a microbrewery, restaurant with a bar and additional retail areas on the ground level. There will be senior rental units on the second and third floors, as well as a new rear addition.
As is common with many heritage projects, the scale and scope of restoration could not be determined until work started – and then contractors discovered sometimes-surprising challenges. “Once we did the initial selective demolition and peeled back the layers of history, we discovered the structure needed a lot of work.”
The project planning stared in the fall of 2013, with selection demolition in early summer of 2014. Structural reinforcements, masonry restoration and concrete foundations have begun, with anticipated completion in late 2015.
Project partners with Voisin and Nith Valley include Robertson Simmons Architects Inc., Ben Eby Inc., and Witzel Dyce Engineering Ltd., from Kitchener. Currently, Nith Valley Construction has about 10 to 20 employees and contractors on the site – the work volume will increase as the new addition is built later this year. Empire Restoration and Ramseyer Excavating have been contracted, but several subtrades and suppliers haven’t been tendered yet, says Zehr.
You can see the project taking shape at Voisin’s blog at imperialnewhamburg.com.