[attach]4978[/attach]The first phase of renovations to the Senator O’Connor House is almost complete.
The buildings, owned by the Toronto Catholic District School Board and leased by the O’Connor House Organization, faced demolition in 2009 after the board’s financial troubles meant that it could no longer afford to keep the site in a state of good repair.
However, because of the site’s historical significance, the buildings, which were built in 1932, are the former home of Canadian senator, philanthropist and businessman Frank O’Connor, the city turned the demolition request.
In 2010 the [url=http://www.mytowncrier.ca/feds-step-in-with-21m-to-save-house.html]federal government stepped in and said they would contribute $2.1 million[/url] toward restoring the aging property.
It was estimated that it would cost $3 million to $4 million to repair and revitalize the estate. The O’Connor House Organization and the school board are responsible for matching the federal government’s contribution.
“The O’Connor House still needs to raise the majority of those funds,” said chair of the board of directors for the O’Connor House Organization, Tony Wagner.
Phase one of the restoration started in April and includes renovating the exterior of the two main structures, the main estate and the coach house, as well as the main floor of the coach house.
The second phase, which will include work on the second floor of the coach house and the main floor of the estate building, is scheduled to start at the beginning of November and be completed by the end of March 2012.
Phase three will repair the second floor of the main estate.
Under terms of the lease, the school board will have use of the main floor of the coach house, which will be used by the nearby school as classroom space.
With the first phase of work wrapping up this month, Wagner said the renovations and repairs are on track.
“The exterior renovation is pretty well complete,” Wagner said. “The roof for example has been repaired on both buildings.”
The windows are also in the process of being replaced.
“Right now you’ll see boards on the windows, but you can certainly tell that (the exterior) has been repaired and brought up to the same consistency,” he said.
Wagner said he was pleased to hear the building will be restored because he believes it will not only contribute to revitalization of the property, but the whole area.
“You see people who walk their dogs in the neighbourhood and they’re excited now to see it actually being restored, because it was such a bloody eyesore,” he said.
The Toronto Catholic District School Board’s associate director of planning and facilities, Angelo Sangiorgio, said the board shares the sentiment.
“I think the board was happy obviously,” he said. “We’re able to restore the house and the historical significance, not just of the house but of the whole property.”
Prior to the government announcing a commitment to help fund the building’s restoration, maintaining the property was unfeasible due to the board’s ongoing financial problems.
“We’re faced with making decisions around replacing roofs windows and boilers,” Sangiorgio said. “You have a residential house that really doesn’t lend itself to be used for instructional space … and sometimes we have to make some difficult choices.”
Now that the future of the estate is assured, the O’Connor House organization is working to restore the building to heritage and school board standards.
The target to complete the final phase is the end of 2012. Apart from classroom space, the organization would use the Senator O’Connor House for heritage and cultural events and also to offer it as rentable space to the community.
Wagner said he believes the school board sees the restoration as a positive move because it will provide not only additional capacity, but also a historical space for interactive teaching.
“I think they see it as an opportunity, from a learning perspective, to actually create curriculum that can celebrate Frank O’Connor as a famous Canadian,” he said.
A groundbreaking ceremony will be held on Oct. 28 at 9 a.m. at the estate and will be attended by federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.