27 mai 2009

The Quebec report

The Quebec report is a joint publication between RENX (Real Estate News Exchange) and Le pied carré.

Some parking garages are dangerous

On November 26, 2008, a man died when he was crushed by the collapse of a concrete slab at a garage, on Deguire Street in Montreal. Following the collapse, four other parking garages were closed by inspectors of the City of Montreal. "It’s just the tip of the iceberg," says Serge Laporte.

At the Concrete Division of Construction company AECON, it is common belief that the condition of several underground parking garages in Montreal have become such that more ans more people are recognizing the warning signs related to a slab of concrete becoming dangerous. That is the opinion of a man who will now devote most of his time to inspecting these aging structures, many of which are threatening to collapse.
"Sometimes it's scary to go in there," says Serge Laporte, Superintendent of AECON, the biggest public construction company in Canada. "In downtown Montreal there are big buildings where I do not even understand why the public is still being allowed inside,” he said.

Who wants to invest in a garage?

In Quebec, indoor parking garages became en vogue between 1970 and 1980. While these indoor parking lots are very comfortable in the winter, they are often poorly maintained. Water saturated with calcium eventually seeps through the small cracks in the concrete or through crevices that arose because of the damage caused by the flow of hydrocarbons. This leads to erosion of the metal frame.

"For some property owners, putting money into a parking garage is not considered sexy. It is more visible and more profitable to invest in changing the windows or renovating the bathrooms," says Laporte.

Worse because of speculation

But like it or not, it is necessary to try and prevent the accumulation of calcium which sticks to the floor of garages. It is also important to ensure that the drainage system works well. Otherwise, sooner or later, someone will have to pay the bill for renovations. Or, in the case of the garage on Deguire street, reconstruction.  Moreover, according to Guy Henry, director of the Concrete Division at AECON, the problem in Montreal is largely due to property speculation in which investors pass buildings from one to another and do not take the time to fix apparent problems.

"The only way that they will act is if they’re ordered to by the authorities,” he said.

Tough luck bill in Saint-Lambert

Serge Laporte is currently overseeing the renovation of a garage in a building housing a hundred condominiums, on rue Saint-Georges in Saint-Lambert.

The hundred or so owners of this former apartment building converted into condos, is now facing a bill of just over one million dollars, or about $ 10,000 each.

Earlier this month, a robot equipped with a huge mechanical jaw cut the reinforced concrete floor of the two-floor garage. Because the six floor building continued to be inhabited during this project, the demolition operation was a tenuous one as it was important to ensure that the columns of the building remained strong.

Symptoms that do not lie

If you notice concrete slabs rising on the concrete floor of an underground garage, or on the ceiling of the lower floor, it is possible that calcium has already taken over.

All that remained in the parking garage on rue Saint Georges was fairly conclusive: a layer of the ceiling had fallen to the ground, there were signs of corrosion and pieces of rusted frame were discovered and visible. In some places, small limestone stalactites were hanging from the ceiling.

Reality check with samples

While these visible symptoms do not necessarily mean that the slab is dangerous, it should serve as a red flag.

The extent to which the calcium has penetrated the concrete can be tested for.

If the contamination is deep, as it was on the eight-inch cement slab of the garage on rue Saint-Georges, the garage must be demolished and rebuilt.

"In Quebec, we seem to be under the impression that concrete is eternal. Yes it's good for a long time if well maintained, otherwise its useful life is about 20 or 30 years," explains Serge Laporte.
There are some buildings in Montreal that have taken good care of their garages. M. Laporte cites several examples of office buildings downtown, as well as Le Sactuaire in Outremont.

City Collects $1 Rent from Royal Montreal Regiment

According to the Westmount Examiner, the City of Westmount collected an annual rental fee of $1 for leasing premises that have been occupied for many generations by a Canadian Armed Forces regiment.

“This dollar is from the Royal Montreal Regiment ― this is their rent,” Councillor George Bowser said during a recent City Council meeting. The Regiment had held a ceremony at the Armoury on Ste. Catherine Street a few days before to present the city with the dollar.

An annual rite of spring, the Regiment holds a change-of-command ceremony and church parade, Bowser said. “They always ceremonially pay their rent, and the mayor or the mayor’s representative ― in this case it was me ― attended.”

The City of Westmount receives rent money under the terms of a special lease signed during the 1920s. It specified that the regiment needed to improve the property with construction.

“It’s got an emphyteutic lease,” said Mayor Karin Marks. “We own the land, and the building, I believe, was built by them.” The agreement, which is for 99 years, expires in 2024.

According to Mayor Marks, Westmount and the Regiment have had a longstanding good relationship.

“They do a good job and they allow us to use their gymnasium for our basketball programs,” she said. “There’s a good relationship between the city and the RMR and there always has been.”

OK to Build Condos on Former Convent Site, but Public Usage Preferred

According to the Montreal Gazette, Montreal’s public consultation office recommended that the former Soeurs des Saints Noms de Jésus et de Marie convent in Outremont should be used for institutional purposes.

However, if necessary public funds are not available, it would be "acceptable" to permit a proposed condominium development there, a report by the city's consultations bureau says. Groupe immobilier F. Catania & associés inc. has submitted plans to build condos at the site. The Université de Montréal bought the complex, at 1420 Mount Royal Blvd. in 2003, to turn it into classrooms - then struck a deal to sell the property if Catania's project got the green light. Catania said it is "extremely happy" with the report.


Quebec to Record 40,000 Housing Starts in 2009

According to the latest forecasts conducted by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), total housing starts in Quebec shall reach 40,000 units in 2009 and over 41,000 in 2010.

A weakened economy, combined with increased supply of homes in certain market segments, has set the stage for declining housing starts in
Quebec this year.

"Despite favourable buying conditions, housing starts will move down to the 40,000 level in 2009, while sales of existing homes decrease to about 70,000 units" said Kevin Hughes, Senior Economist at the CMHC for Quebec.

William Jegher


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