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Georgetown’s historic McGibbon Hotel brought back to life

Georgetown’s historic McGibbon Hotel brought back to life
Located at Main and Mill streets in downtown Georgetown, Ont., the three-storey red brick McGibbon Hotel has been a prominent landmark since its construction in the late 1880s.

And its roots extend even further back in time as it built on the exact footprint and the same stone foundation of a two-storey wooden hotel built in 1850 and later destroyed by fire.

Now the hotel is on the throes of another transformation, as it will be replaced by a condominium in about two years.

But locally based Silver Creek Commercial Builders Inc., the condominium developer, suggests this is not a case of another heritage building being demolished. Literally thousands of bricks from the hotel will be reincorporated into the new building, says vice-president Don Jackson.

Designed by Studio JCI and to be built by construction manager Wilkinson Construction Services, The Residences of the Hotel McGibbon will be comprised of a three-storey heritage brick clad podium and a seven-storey superstructure with terraced units, "so they don't impact the character of Main Street."

Later this summer Toronto-based Heritage Restoration Inc. will begin dismantling the brick, an intricate and challenging task which requires cataloguing each piece — including all the ornamentation — determining which are salvageable, and then storing them in nearby safe and secure location.

Although new heritage-style windows will be required, all the stone, brickwork, and sills around each window will be placed as one unit in separate containers, says Jackson.

"Heritage Restoration Inc. will be part historian, part masonry contractor and part detective."

After the condominium is constructed, the heritage masonry contractor will return to the site to undertake the equally daunting task of recladding the condominium on the second and third floors on the Main Street frontage using those harvested bricks. The retail ground floor will be primarily a glass façade.

"They will be in the exact same location and height as they were originally in the hotel," says Jackson, adding even the restored McGibbon Hotel sign will be reinstated in the same position.

As each and every piece won't be salvageable, they will be replaced with brick from the less prominent Mill Street elevation. That side will be clad with replica brick from Ibstock Brick, a British manufacturer with a Canadian distributor in Woodbridge, he says.

Imperfections in the original brick installation or later ones, such as people carving their names into the stones, will not be rectified.

Not everything can or should be saved, including the ground floor Main Street walls and windows, which were changed at least six times over the decades. This included the loss of the original Main Street entrance, he says.

"We want to remain true to the original building as possible," says Jackson, noting the Main Street presence will be recaptured by the ground floor stores. Entrance to the condominiums will be through Mill Street.

The hotel played a prominent role in the development of Georgetown and at one time was a convenient mid-way stop for people travelling from Toronto to Guelph, says Jackson. Both he and his partner Doug Pattison are long-time Georgetown residents who say their passion in preserving the hotel and the overall character of the downtown was the motivation for purchasing it in early 2016. Their original plan was to restore, renovate and incorporate the hotel into a condominium.

"Then reality set in" says Jackson, in reference to how that plan was scraped following a walkthrough tour by Read Jones Christoffersen.

With numerous deficiencies including a bulging main floor and another floor which had dropped from a shear wall, the structural consultant ruled the building couldn't be saved. "He basically said 'this building is done'."

Subsequently, RDH Building Science was hired to prepare a report on how the bricks could be integrated into the building as a heritage façade as a condition of the development agreement with the Town of Halton Hills.

A laser study by Extreme Measures mapped images of the Main Street and Mill Street facades, including all dimensions of the windows, window sills, bricks, brick arches, and other elements, and documented where the building is not plumb or level and where it is shifting and settling, says Sarah Gray, a principal with RDH.

"Then the architect recreated the hotel in AutoCAD," says Gray, explaining that information is need to understand where the reconstructed facades will be need to be construction level and plumb.

In March of this the various project partners conducted an onsite assessment of the bricks. There were a number of issues which had to be resolved including whether or not the lime mortar could be removed with damaging the brick. The conclusion was that it could, she says.

In keeping with the heritage nature of the project and the building, lime mortar will also be used for the brick reassembly. There will also have to number of onsite decisions by Heritage Restoration Inc. including the lime mortar colorization and that won't be easy task, she says.

"Brick looks different at different angles and at different times such as when the sun is shining or when it is overcast."

There will also be strict onsite controls and separation of the original brick and the replica brick.

"Brick from the 1880s from the 2017 can't be intermingled as they will have different properties."

The goal, however, is to achieve a consistent look as the bricks will be the same size, texture, and colour. Only passersby, "with a very keen eye for detail," will be able to detect the subtle difference between the new and old brick, says Gray.

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