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April 30, 2008 10:23 AM

Fantasy Fire Museum Renovation Tweaks Imagination

A group of Conestoga College students have come up with some innovative ways to reuse a Galt core landmark.

In January, the 19 students from the college’s architecture – project and facility management program looked at developing new uses for Dickson Street’s old Galt fire hall.

The project is part of a new four-year degree program and was developed by instructor and architect Ron Bean.

“Up until now the students had used one of the college buildings for this project, but we wanted to introduce them to the concept of adaptive reuse of an old building,” he said.

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Bean worked on the initial design for the fire hall museum and education centre at the old Galt fire hall several years ago and gained permission from the museum’s board of directors to use the building for his class project.

Last Thursday the students presented their ideas to board members and local architects.

“It’s like owning a home in a new subdivision where every fourth one is the same and then seeing what other people would do with your house,” he said.

Bean told his students as he introduced the presentation: “What we will be trying to do here is simulate a real life situation. There are a lot of times when you’ll be hired to renovate an old building and you’ll have to come up with innovative ways of meeting a client’s needs and sell your ideas to the client during a presentation.”

During the course of the afternoon the students presented six concepts designed to ignite the imagination.

“They had some really interesting ideas, and some of the presentations were very good,” said museum director Bill McIntyre.

The students, working in teams, put forward concepts for an upscale fashion boutique, a revamped fire museum, a modern art gallery/cafe, a library, restaurant and cafe.

In some of the concepts, the students blew out some of the floors to create three-storey high cathedral ceilings that would expose the building’s unique roof structure.

In others they created mezzanines, spiral staircases in the old hose tower, added additions to the rear of the building to create multimedia centres.

Many of the concepts restored the fire hall’s original front doors. Others created a new main entrance either in the new additions they would build and one suggested turning one of the windows in the base of the hose tower into a new main entrance for the facility.

Paul Sapounzi, managing partner with the Ventin Group Architects, sat in on the session and commented on the concepts as they were presented.

Some he liked, others he didn’t, “but I do appreciate all the work you’ve put into this.”

“The one question you have to ask yourselves here is: what is the headline here? What feature is going to make this project stand out? Some of you have done that and others haven’t,” he said.

In many cases, the students in researching their concepts looked to other buildings in the region to better understand their client’s needs.

“We had a lot of fun doing this,” said student Carson Campbell in presenting his team’s art gallery concept. “We looked at the building as more than a place to hang art, we wanted it to become part of the experience.”

Following Thursday’s presentations, Bean said, “Dealing with the public is a big part of this job. This was great experience for them. They had to answer questions that were coming at them out of left field and some of them did a lot better than I had expected.”

The students are now heading back to the drawing board to refine their concepts, prepare sample construction drawings, do preliminary costings and report back to the clients in mid-April.

“We want them to experience everything they would have to do to get a project ready for tender,” Bean said.

by RAYMARTIN

(Originally published in the Cambridge TIMES, March 13, 2008)

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