Two Chatham-Kent councillors, two Historic Downtown Chatham BIA personnel and one journalist received a tour of the downtown high-rise project recently.
On Feb. 15, Chatham councillors Darrin Canniff and Brock McGregor, along with BIA administrator Connie Beneteau and co-chair Paul Shettel, as well as this writer, toured all 10 storeys of the Boardwalk on the Thames, courtesy of site manager Brian Chute.
They viewed issues that have caused delays to the project, such as failed concrete, saw windows being installed and took note that it appears the framing for all the interior walls in the residential portion of the building are done. But they also saw that there remains a great deal of work left to be done.
Chute said the hopeful completion date is now Christmas of this year.
When announced back in 2010, the development was to feature 64 condominium units, a 22-room hotel and retail space. It was to be completed by early 2012.
But delays have pushed back that completion date, and the size of the project has been scaled back somewhat as well.
Gone is the hotel and some of the retail space. What remains at the 10-storey site are 88 residential units and some retail space that will have street-level frontage on King Street.
With two and a half floors of parking, Chute said they have more than enough space to accommodate the future occupants of the building.
As well, Chute said while the original plan was to sell condominium units, Everlast Group, which is run by developer Victor Boutin, now wishes to rent the units instead.
“We’re finding people coming from out of town would rather not pay a condo fee or pay a mortgage. They like the idea of renting, paying hydro and insurance and that’s it,” he said.
He didn’t rule out people renting with an option to purchase.
There have been a number of issues which helped contribute with delays in construction. The most recent of which has yet to be felt. There is failed concrete in the basement that was poured near Christmas. Chute said there was too much chloride in it and it did not meet the engineer’s standards. Workers will have to chip it out and replace it. They are working out a deal with the concrete supplier.
The unique one-piece balconies, which were to speed up construction, have actually caused delays, as the camber was too high, creating a potential trip hazard. The concrete balconies should have simply slid into place, but instead had to be pressed down and then attached to the building with a special brace.
“It was supposed to be quicker for installation,” Chute said. “We could have poured each balcony and we’d have been done by now. Victor tries to trend set and be ahead of the curve.”
Tying the building into the bedrock 65 feet below ground level, something that had to be done, also led to delays.
“It was a very expensive process,” Chute said.
He admitted some of the problems with the delay of construction lay at Boutin’s feet. He said the developer is just too busy at times.
“Victor has property all over North America. He’s busy everywhere. Sometimes he spreads himself too thin,” Chute said. “Victor has invested $20 million-$30 million in this community and he does it his way.”
Chute said two crews are now onsite installing windows. It is hoped they will be done installing throughout the building in a month’s time.
In previously published reports, Boutin had stated the timeline for completion of the window installation was before the end of 2016.
Ongoing challenges, Chute said, are lining up contractors. If you can slot them into place like a chronological jigsaw puzzle, the construction process runs more smoothly with fewer interruptions.
“It’s our duct work and heating and cooling we are waiting on now,” he said. “Once we get that in, things should move more quickly.”
The heating and cooling of the building is no simple matter. The project will utilize geothermal energy for heating and cooling. Chute said water will be piped 500 feet down into the ground and will return at a temperature of about 13C. In the summer, blowing air across pipes containing the cool water will help keep the building cool, and in the winter, Chute said it’s easier to heat water from that point to 20-22C than from a lower starting point.
Canniff said he was impressed by the condominium project.
“There’s a lot of money being spent in the community because of this,” he said. “This is a very positive thing for the community. Has it taken longer than anticipated? Yes. But it will be a beautiful thing in the end.”
Between 60 and 70 per cent of the work on the project has been done by local contractors and labourers, Chute estimated.
“We try to use local crews but when we can bring people in from Toronto for half the price, what can you do,” he asked, and alleged that some tradespeople view Everlast as a golden goose of sorts, and price themselves out of a job.
Chute said his auction of the former Park Street United Church is actually what first brought Boutin to Chatham.
“I was honest with him over the building and he appreciated that,” he said. “Now, I consider him a friend. I have his interests at heart.”
Who introduced Boutin to Mayor Randy Hope? Chute said he did. He also showed him the former YMCA property, which Boutin purchased and is renovating.
As for the Boardwalk on the Thames, Chute credits Hope and former municipal staffer James Snyder with showcasing that property to Boutin.
While hopeful of the Christmas completion date, Chute said changes will become quite evident in the coming weeks, especially when the weather warms.
Aside from the windows going in, exterior work will begin as we transition into spring.
“You’ll see a lot of changes in the concrete look,” he said.