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September 26, 2013

EMPIRE RESTORATION

The scaffold and netting system needed for the Miller House restoration at Ridley College.

FEATURE | Concrete & Masonry

Tight timetable for Ridley College restoration

As students, teachers and staff at Ridley College in St. Catharines, Ont. returned to classes and work a few weeks ago, Empire Restoration was wrapping up a massive, yet elaborate, brick and masonry restoration on two of the private institutions oldest and high profile structures.

Using its own forces, the Kitchener-based general contractor completed a long list of exterior improvements to the 1904 Miller House and the 1915 Hamilton House which flank a central section and are private residences for some of the teaching staff.

Empire Restoration was one of three pre-qualified heritage restoration contractors which submitted proposals on the project, the scope of which was determined by the school.

“The project was extremely challenging because the bulk of the work had to be completed over the school holidays,” says president Philip Hoad, explaining the company had to adhere to a tight 10-week timetable.

It was intended to minimize inconvenience and disturbance to school and, in particular, to the occupants of the buildings.

EMPIRE RESTORATION

Conducted in a top-down sequence the project included an extensive restoration of the buildings’ massive 20-feet-high, five-foot-thick chimneys, parapet walls, and gables. (All the gable ends were repointed with lime mortar.)

“We installed an estimated 2,000 new bricks,” says Hoad, explaining that while new, they had to be ones that matched the original ones.

Thirty severely deteriorated precast stone parapet caps also had to be removed and replaced with new precast concrete ones fabricated from six different moulds.

As well, most of the associated copper flashings, gutters and down pipes had to be replaced, he says.

One of the most complex operations, from both a planning and construction perspective, was the installation of new slate roofs. Early in the project sample slates were removed from each of the houses to determine size, colour and texture. Not only did the new slate have to match the original, the contractor had to deal with two suppliers because each house has a different coloured roof, explains Hoad.

In the case of the Hamilton House, which has a green roof, matching quarried slate was still available from the same Vermont source which supplied the original material.

Slate from the Quebec had to be sourced, however, because the Maine quarry, which produced the unfading dark grey installed on the Miller House in the early 1900s, no longer operates, he says.

Pre-cut and pre-holed by the quarries, the slate was sorted on site for thickness “to ensure a properly graduated and finished roof and then double nailed with copper nails.”

Coordinating the masonry and roofing work consecutively, over such a short period of time, was another major challenge. Since scaffolding had been mounted on the roofs for the chimney and other high level masonry restoration — that work had to be completed and the scaffolding removed before the slate roofing installation could start.

“We are grateful to our scaffold sub-contractor, Scaffold Russ Dilworth,” says Hoad, pointing out the Toronto-based firm was very adept at quickly dismantling, moving and then reassembling the scaffolding as the project progressed from segment to the next.

While the company was able to meet the 10-week time frame for the masonry restoration on both house, a delay in the Vermont slate means the roof on the Hamilton house won’t be finished until early October, says Hoad.

Despite that delay, the school can expect a long life from those roofs. Depending on roof slope and climatic conditions, a slate roof in Canada can last 100 years, he says.

Also, showcasing the houses will be one of the pivotal events when the coeducational Junior Kindergarten-to-Grade 12 school celebrates its 125th anniversary in the fall of 2014, says school project coordinator Robert Taylor. At various times in the school’s existence, both served as headmaster houses, he says.

“We always have a number of projects on the go,” says Taylor, pointing out the school has a number of other buildings on its 88-acre site.

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