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Lambton County housing and office projects continue in Sarnia

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Two Lambton County construction projects in Sarnia are scheduled to be completed this year.

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The first will be in April, when renovations to create a standalone office building at the former Bayside Centre mall site downtown are expected to finish.

The second is a $6.1-million, 24-unit extension to Maxwell Park Place, a county affordable housing building. It is expected to be completed in September.

“From the outside, it will appear to be one building,” said Melisa Johnson of Lambton County’s housing services department.

The extension is a modular building project, with modules being made in a factory in the Greater Toronto Area and shipped to Sarnia to be assembled at the site that sits between London Road and Maxwell Street.

Tenants in the extension will have access to community rooms and other amenities in the existing 57-unit affordable apartment building the county opened in 2011 on the site of the original Marshall Gowland Manor long-term care home.

Tenants living in the extension will use the existing parking lot and main entrance to the building, but a new fire lane is being built to London Road that will also provide access during construction.

The new 24 one-bedroom apartments will include six fully accessible units.

The March of Dimes is in talks with the Ontario Health Team for funding to provide additional support for tenants in the six fully accessible units. The other additional units will be for seniors.

A building permit for the extension was issued by Sarnia City Hall in late 2021 and work is set to begin early this year on the foundation, with the first modules expected to arrive on site in the spring.

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The provincial and federal governments contributed $1.3 million to the project, with the county paying the balance with reserves and debt financing.

“The project is coming along well and moving ahead,” Johnson said. “It will help with the need in our community but we certainly need a lot more affordable housing.”

Work to complete renovations in the former Eaton’s department store section of what was Bayside Mall downtown has been delayed a few weeks.

The county agreed to a 20-year lease of the space it had been renting for two decades for a shared services centre that includes offices for social services, provincial offences court and other services.

Nearly all of the remainder of the former downtown mall has been demolished by the site’s owner, Seasons Retirement Communities, which plans to build a new residential development with 160 fully independent apartments, 144 retirement home suites and 17 townhouses.

The total cost of the redevelopment project was estimated previously at $80 million to $100 million, and Seasons has said the new construction is expected to be completed by 2026.

The county’s offices, along with new commercial space being added to the former department store building, will be in a standalone building once the project is completed, and a long-term agreement with the developer gives the county the option of buying the space for $23.5 million, 10 years into the deal.

Lambton County has budgeted $4.4 million for leaseholder improvements inside the building.

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“Currently, work is happening on both the first and second floor,” said Rob King, a manager with Lambton County. “We’re in the finishing phases of the first floor.”

Many county staff normally at the site have been working remotely during the pandemic while others are using space in the two-storey building’s basement level during the renovations.

“Rough-in” work is now taking place on the second floor for electrical, heating and cooling services, as well as framing work, King said.

Originally expected to be completed Jan. 30, the renovations are now expected to be finished by the end of April, “primarily as a result of unforeseen impacts associated with COVID-19,” according to a report this week to a Lambton County council committee.

Johnson said there weren’t “a whole lot” of surprises discovered during the renovations so far.

While the former department store has been there for many years, it was renovated in 2001 when the county first moved into the space at the downtown mall, he said.

So far, the county has spent roughly $3.1 million on leaseholder renovations, he said.

Work on the exterior of the building, and the additional commercial space, is being carried out by contractors working for Seasons Retirement Communities, King said.

“It’s definitely going to be a very nice facility and help revitalize the downtown core,” he said.

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