The sinking Port Credit library; a lesson for Mississauga
Mississauga’s second oldest library has been slowly sinking into the ground.
The Port Credit Library was established in 1896 and provided library services to residents from various locations in its early years before finding a permanent home at 20 Lakeshore Road East in 1962. On June 9, 2021 the City made the decision to close its doors to the public due to structural issues.
“Unfortunately that building may not withstand Building Code standards today as we’ve been seeing it sinking for some time, and it may have to be rebuilt,” Mayor Bonnie Crombie told The Pointer at a press conference Thursday.
Renovations, structural supports and taxpayer dollars have been poured into the building over the past 40 years, yet none of it has been enough to stop the force of Mother Nature.
The sidewalk outside the library is uneven, potentially a result of the sinking foundation underneath.
(Natasha O’Neill/ The Pointer)
The library actually sits atop the old Faulkner Marsh. Unfortunately, in 1953, residents turned this wetland complex and diverse ecosystem into a dumping ground. The nearby Lakeview Power Plant also contributed to the pollution by dumping coal fly ash, a by-product of burning coal, into the area.
As the rich ecosystem perished, the idea to use the space as a permanent home for a library began.
Libraries are often a focal point in urban neighbourhoods, offering a range of free services to everyone in the community.
“I know the library is at the heart and soul of our Port Credit neighbourhood,” Ward 1 Councillor Stephen Dasko states in a City press release.
The history of the library is a testament to the determination of Port Credit and its residents to save this community space.
The City of Mississauga gave the library a $3.1 million facelift in 2011.
(Natasha O’Neill/ The Pointer)
Before landing at the current location, the library was behind a local fire hall at 106 Lakeshore Road. When it came time to move the books to the Lakeshore Road East location in 1962, the community stepped up to lend a hand.
“The entire town pitched in for the move. Members of the Library Board used their station wagons to help move the library’s contents to the new location and young borrowers pulled wagons filled with books into the new building,” the Port Credit Library website reads. “Without them the library would have run out of money, the books would have fallen into disrepair, and the library would never have become what it is today.”
A joint effort was needed to make the transition from the old library to the new one ahead of the opening in 1962.
(Library archives of Mississauga)
David Sheard, a retired Canada Post worker, grew up in Port Credit and remembers how dear the library was to those in the area, especially young students. He attended both elementary and high school in Port Credit and used the wealth of books for different projects.
“You would say it is more of a community thing,” he said. “It’s too bad it’s gotten to this point,”
Despite the outpouring of dedication, it has not been enough to solve the critical problem; the library is built on unstable ground. The sinking of the structure has been happening for decades and attempts to mitigate this have been ongoing.
Renovations were first carried out in 1992. The City stated, “To the best of our knowledge, we have no information on the base structure being unstable dating back to 1992. Also, no structural concerns were reported as part of the design work that commenced in 2009.”
Mississauga gained funding from the Federal Infrastructure Stimulus Fund to complete a $3.1 million facelift in 2010. The adaptive reuse project completely refurbished the outside parts of the building while keeping the structural integrity intact. The renovations were completed in March 2011.
The finished library won the Governor-General's Medal for architecture in 2013 for its creative design and eco-friendly refurbishment efforts.
"I think there is a tendency from an environmental point of view to see that it's best to reuse what's there and transform it,” lead architect Tyler Sharp told the Globe and Mail after the award.
Port Credit library has been a constant for many residents of the neighbourhood and a source of comfort. Photo of the former 1962 building.
(Library archives of Mississauga)
Using adaptive reuse can be cost effective and has numerous environmental benefits apart from the design. Maintaining and refurbishing existing structures, as opposed to constructing new ones, is a vital component for cities like Mississauga which have mostly built out within their existing urban boundaries. Preserving and repurposing existing spaces can slow down the pace at which cities sprawl outward and pave over critical green spaces.
Work to preserve the foundation of the Port Credit Library continued in 2016 in an effort to slow the building from sinking further into the soft ground.
A structural review on the building found the concrete foundation needed crucial repairs, leaving the City with two options. Work could either be done to repair the piers (giant supportive blocks of concrete) that support the structure. This would have required a significant investment of time and effort because of the wet, contaminated soil underneath.The City didn’t want the area to be disturbed further and risk more sinking, so a plan to install helical piles was chosen instead.
A concrete pier under the library pictured in 2016.
(Techno Metal Post Hamilton-Durham)
The piles act as heavy duty screws in the ground to uphold large infrastructure and stabilize the foundation. Techno Metal Post Hamilton-Durham wedged the piles through the buried garbage to safely secure the library and a sturdy steel beam was installed to keep the building afloat.
After completion, the engineers recommended keeping a watchful eye on the aging infrastructure and conducting bi-monthly structural monitoring. In April of this year, reports from engineers showed four of the 27 piers were degraded.
“Evidence of significant structural loss had occurred in three of the four piers over the past five years,” the report stated.
Staff found no obvious signs of structural failures and no movement of the floor had been reported.
The sinking library raises an interesting question. If the municipality knew the land upon which the library was built was soft marshland, why erect a structure there in the first place? And further, why continue to invest in a structure that will inevitably be lost to the effects of nature?
This also raises questions about future development on other plots of compromised land in Mississauga.
The City is currently in the midst of two very important revitalization projects. In its infancy, Port Credit was home to a number of industrial plants, which today have left behind empty brownfields that will require significant remediation before future use.
One such plot sits next to JC Saddington Park 70 Mississauga Road. The site used to be a brick manufacturing site in the late 1800s, before becoming an oil refinery in 1932 and a petrochemical plant in 1985.
The site at 70 Mississauga Road, in the distance there is rubble from old buildings.
(Natasha O’Neill/The Pointer)
To eliminate the chemicals that have seeped into the soil, expensive remediation is required. The Province of Ontario through the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change has strict regulations and processes in place to ensure the safety of such locations including remediation work to ensure that contaminants are removed from the soil or the installation of barriers to ensure they do not spread through the site.
The land at 70 Mississauga Road is a key piece in the City’s master plan for the Port Credit area, known as Inspiration Port Credit and approved in 2015. Working with the landowner, the City envisions a vibrant lakefront neighbourhood for people to live and work. Before that can happen, significant remediation is required. An environmental assessment has been completed showing once the area is cleaned it will be safe to use for residential purposes.
Embracing the waterfront and celebrating the heritage of Port Credit are key inspirations for the design of 70 Mississauga Road. The plan looks to connect the natural beauty of the waterfront with urban living to create a balanced area.
Another key piece of Inspiration Port Credit is the marina at 1 Port Street East. The City hopes to refurbish the land for a new marina and parkland space. An environmental assessment is underway which will determine the potential impacts of erosion and flooding and if the city can create an expanded land base off the existing shoreline.
1 Port Street also focuses on sustainable construction, making the neighbourhood have connections to public transit and the ability for people to walk and bike. Protecting the heritage of Port Credit while using attractive designs to make the mixed use area friendly and inviting is also a priority.
Similar to compromised land or contaminated soil, the waterfront development will require extensive study and meditation to ensure the buildings that are eventually constructed are structurally viable over the long term.
The City has seen previous success stories in this regard. The Port Credit Village, located at the foot of Hurontario Street on Lakeshore Road, was home to the former St. Lawrence Starch plant, and is now home to low-rise urban homes and businesses.
The owners/developers of the site, FRAM+Slokker, decided this area would be a great opportunity to turn Port Credit into a vibrant community with tourism and public access to the waterfront. They wanted to make more of an impact culturally on the small neighbourhood. The first phase has been successfully built and continues to expand along the shoreline.
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