Machine Shop Impact!

An equally devastating impact! ……

Although the loss of the Toronto Rail Museum is cause enough for concern, the impact that the current Toronto Hydro proposal will have on the integrity of the Machine Shop and Roundhouse is also devastating.  As noted previously, the TRHA has significant concerns regarding the measures proposed in the final Heritage Impact Assessment, specifically the 300mm (12”) expansion joint between the Machine Shop and Roundhouse and the 500mm (20”) reinforced concrete exterior wall which would utilize reclaimed brick (where possible) as a veneer only.  It is our opinion that these measures utterly and irreparably destroy the heritage integrity of both the Machine Shop and Roundhouse.  The revised Heritage Impact Assessment asserts that the re-assembly of the Machine Shop maintains the visual continuity of the site which it identifies as one of the most significant heritage attributes of the complex.  Not only does this approach attempt to limit the significance of the Machine Shop to its exterior appearance, contrary to the Commemorative Integrity Statement which notes the scale and volume of interior spaces, it also fails to recognize the importance that the Machine Shop had to the function of the Roundhouse during its use.

Again, it is simply not possible to communicate the repair function of the Roundhouse without the Machine Shop and its artifacts.  By way of mitigation, the revised HIA states that the re-assembly of the Machine Shop will re-instate the original physical relationship of the Machine Shop to the Roundhouse; this clearly ignores the effect of the proposed 300mm expansion joint which makes this re-instatement impossible.  The revised HIA repeatedly references the standard of reversibility despite the fact that there is simply no way to return the Machine Shop to its found condition without complete disassembly, even were Toronto Hydro and Hydro One to abandon the transformer station at a future date.  Although the precedent for disassembly and re-assembly was set during the construction of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, these two situations are NOT comparable.  While the Roundhouse stalls were disassembled to allow for the construction of the MTCC, the stalls were ultimately re-assembled to suit the original condition and construction: the re-assembly of the Machine Shop, proposed by Toronto Hydro, will irreparably alter its original construction and destroy its connection to the Roundhouse.  A precedent for this level of inappropriate intervention cannot be set, especially in the context of a nationally designated heritage site.

It is completely unacceptable that the management of the Roundhouse site has effectively been left to the discretion of Toronto Hydro and that its’ continued integrity is subject to the current proposal which was developed in haste and convenience.  The adaptive re-use of the John Street Roundhouse for the Leon’s furniture store was completed in keeping with the best heritage practices as expected and appropriate for a site of this importance and is rightly deserving of the awards and acclaim that it has garnered.  To allow the Machine Shop to be altered in the manner currently proposed by Toronto Hydro will most certainly detract from the successful re-use of the Roundhouse and call into question the manner in which this site has been managed. It is our opinion that the re-assembly of the Machine Shop as a post-disaster structure will destroy its heritage integrity and clearly does not respect the “significant and irreplaceable legacy” of the site.  It is critical that we do not waste this one opportunity to develop the Machine Shop and Roundhouse Park in a manner that is representative of the best of heritage and cultural stewardship.

Toronto Hydro makes much of its obligation to provide power to the citizens of Toronto: however, as a wholly-owned affiliate of Toronto Hydro Corporation to which the City of Toronto is the sole shareholder, Toronto Hydro also has an obligation to act in a manner that is in the public’s greater interest.  The construction of the transformer station at the expense of the Toronto Railway Museum and the continued development of the Roundhouse Park is most definitely not in the public’s interest.  The TRHA is not suggesting that Toronto Hydro abandon the transformer station project: the alternative proposed by the TRHA would allow for the construction of the transformer station while maintaining the Machine Shop for the establishment of the Railway Museum.  Publicly, Toronto Hydro has been very adamant about the need to upgrade and modernize its facilities and warns of service disruptions and power outages yet its current proposal utilizes an 80-year old heritage building to house the control rooms, the “brain of the station” according to Toronto Hydro.

The requirement for additional space within the Machine Shop for both Toronto Hydro and Hydro One increased with every subsequent iteration of the design: we have to wonder how much space will ultimately be required and what further measures Toronto Hydro will propose for the Machine Shop when it is no longer deemed to be large enough.  Toronto Hydro seems determined to house elements of the transformer station within the Machine Shop although it seems to make no sense to utilize approximately 12,000 square feet of space within the Machine Shop when the additional land that we are proposing could provide Toronto Hydro with up to 74,000 square feet of space.  This additional space will allow for any further design changes as well as meeting any potential future requirements for expansion or modification due to new equipment or technologies.  The haste with which Toronto Hydro and its engineers have approached the design and approvals process to date leaves us with little doubt that further changes can be expected; indeed, we would be quite surprised if the design did not change.

It has been suggested that the project is too far advanced to allow Toronto Hydro to consider alternatives.  While this certainly makes for a compelling argument, the reality is that Toronto Hydro was not forthcoming with its requirements months ago.  The TRHA began meeting with Toronto Hydro and its engineers in April 2011 with the hope of maintaining enough space within the Machine Shop to allow for the establishment of the Railway Museum: however, we were not informed that the Machine Shop would not be available to us, save at Toronto Hydro’s discretion, until November 2011.  If the TRHA, with the cooperation of Toronto Hydro, had been able to begin our negotiations for the additional land with the City of Toronto, we believe that we would have an agreement in place which would allow the TRHA to establish the Toronto Rail Museum within the Machine Shop and Toronto Hydro to construct the transformer station below grade.  Of course, the recent decision by the Ontario Energy Board to deny Toronto Hydro’s request for a rate increase to fund the modernization of its facilities might seem to support the argument that no further capital can be committed to this project.  Again, a compelling argument but we would question the decision to proceed to this stage in the design and approvals process when the OEB decision on the rate increase was still months away.

Toronto Hydro has repeatedly stated that too much capital has been committed to the project and that, due to strict regulatory requirements, they must be prudent in their use of funds.  In response to this, we would like to point out that over $22 million dollars have been invested in the restoration and development of Roundhouse Park to date by the City of Toronto and State Building Group.  The time and money invested in the transformer station project is beyond negligible when compared to the amount of time, planning, effort, and capital invested in Roundhouse Park to date.  While the alternatives proposed by the TRHA do not affect Toronto Hydro’s ability to construct the transformer station in order to upgrade and modernize its facilities and equipment, the current proposal by Toronto Hydro jeopardizes any further development of Roundhouse Park and destroys the value of all investment to date and the continued work and purpose of the TRHA and its volunteers.  Toronto Hydro claims that, by allowing the TRHA the use of the Machine Shop, it would be “subsidizing” the TRHA and the Railway Museum: this is patently untrue.  The disassembly and re-assembly of the Machine Shop was proposed by THESL to allow for the excavation required to construct the transformer station: not only does this measure have no relation to the eventual use of the Machine Shop, it was proposed well in advance of the appropriation of space within the Machine Shop by Toronto Hydro and is, therefore, not contingent upon the dedicated use of the Machine Shop by Toronto Hydro.  By allowing the TRHA the use of the Machine Shop, Toronto Hydro will simply be honouring the commitment that it made to both the TRHA and the City of Toronto.

Despite the resistance that we have encountered to date, the TRHA will continue to make every effort to protect the Machine Shop and Roundhouse for the use of future generations.  To that end, the TRHA remains committed in our efforts to obtain the additional land and to provide Toronto Hydro with a viable alternative to its current proposal.  We are more than willing to support Toronto Hydro, as required, to secure the commitment of any jurisdiction or agency necessary in order to enable them to take advantage of this opportunity to arrive at a successful solution that is beneficial to both the TRHA and Toronto Hydro: a solution which will secure the reputation of the John Street Roundhouse as the premier railway site in Canada while setting the precedent for the successful integration of the transformer station within the downtown core.

This truly is the last opportunity to preserve the integrity of the John Street Roundhouse National Historic Site, the “best surviving example of a Roundhouse in Canada”. 

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