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Work to start on rehab centre

Garment factory being converted on Notre Dame

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When it opened in 1933, the sprawling Christie's Biscuits building on Notre Dame Avenue was North America's first single-storey commercial bakery.

Nearly 80 years later, the venerable red-brick building is about to undergo an extreme makeover that will transform it into a one-of-a-kind facility of a different sort -- Manitoba's first "one-stop" rehabilitation centre for children with disabilities.

Sometime within the next couple of months, the garment workers will move out of the south half of the two-building complex at 1147 Notre Dame -- it's been an MWG Apparel Corp. factory since 1978 -- and the construction crews will move in to begin transforming it into the new Specialized Services for Children and Youth (SSCY) centre.

When it opens in the spring of 2013, the 95,000-square-foot SSCY will replace the existing Rehabilitation Centre for Children (RCC) on Wellington Crescent. At roughly twice the size of the RCC, it will house a dozen different agencies that provide services to disabled children and youth -- six that will have their permanent offices there and six that will use space there for things like meetings and client assessments.

At first glance, the Christie's building, which is located about five blocks west of McPhillips Street, might seem like an odd choice as the home for the new SSCY.

But it's the perfect choice, according to Jeanette Edwards, regional director of primary health care for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, which is leasing the building from MWG for the next 30 years.

She said it took about six years for the partners in the SSCY initiative -- the WRHA, Manitoba Health, Manitoba Family Services and Consumer Affairs and various service-provider agencies -- to find a building that has a large enough floor plate (roughly 60,000 square feet). And in a location that would provide quick, easy access to both the Health Sciences Centre and the airport.

Edwards said access to the airport was important because the centre will serve children and youth from all over Manitoba, as well as northwestern Ontario and Nunavut.

She said she's been working on the SSCY project for about 12 years, and it took six years just to find the right building.

"So this (the construction phase), to me, is the grand finale."

MWG executive vice-president Hartley Klapman said MWG is relocating its head office and distribution-centre operations into the 50,000-square-foot addition that was build onto the back of the building in 1954. That area has already been extensively renovated.

He said MWG will do the upgrades to the base building the WRHA is leasing, including the installation of new electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems. The WRHA will be responsible for the interior renovations.

Because the interior-renovation portion of the project hasn't gone to tender yet, WRHA officials wouldn't say how much they think it will cost.

But two architects working on the project -- Dudley Thompson of Prairie Architects Inc. and Cindy Rodych of Stantec Architecture -- said redeveloping the building will still be cheaper than building a new one. Even when it's being redeveloped to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver standards.

It will boast architectural features you'd never find in a new building, Rodych said, including a battery of large skylights that flood the building with natural light during the day.

"This building was a LEED building long before LEED was even dreamed about with all of this natural light," Thompson added.

The existing building has an elevated main floor that is about 1.2 metres above the ground. So to create room for a new mezzanine level, construction crews will be tearing out the existing floor and building a new one at ground level.

"We decided that rather than raise the roof, we were going to drop the floor," said Bob Mathieson, vice-president of design and construction for Shelter Canadian Properties Ltd., which is overseeing the redevelopment project on behalf of MWG and will manage the building once the project is complete.

Mathieson admits the decision to go down instead of up raised a few eyebrows. But they're satisfied it's the most cost efficient way to go.


Know of any newsworthy or interesting trends or developments in the local office, retail, or industrial real estate sectors? Let real estate reporter Murray McNeill know at the e-mail address below, or at 697-7254.

Former biscuit building

IT was unique when it opened, so it's only fitting the Christie's Biscuits building is about to morph into a one-of-a-kind health-care facility, according to a spokesman for the owner, MWG Apparel Corp.

MWG executive vice-president Hartley Klapman said that up until the Winnipeg plant opened in 1933, all of the commercial bakeries in North America were multi-storey facilities.

"They were multi-storeys because they needed to elevate the (baking) ingredients," he said.

But the success of the new Christie's Biscuits plant proved a single-storey plant worked better, he said, and that became the model everyone followed from then on.

The building's length -- nearly a full city block -- also made it unique for Winnipeg, according to Dudley Thompson, one of the lead architects working on the redevelopment of the building.

"There were are a lot of other warehouses that would have been that big (in terms of square footage)," Thompson said. "But I would think (it) would have been the largest single-level factory in Winnipeg at the time."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 12, 2011 B6

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