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Guest Column: Making the Land Under the Leslie Barns Buildable




Today we present a guest post from Mark Tigchelaar P.Eng., president and founder of GeoSolv Design/ Build Inc. Mark is passionate about both geoscience and the construction industry as a whole and has a strong desire to contribute to its excellence by promoting the concept of improved value throughout the industry.

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The Leslie Barns Storage and Maintenance Facility was put into service in 2016 to house and service the vast majority of the Toronto Transit Commission’s fleet of Flexity Outlook light rail vehicles (LRVs). The facility boasts over 25,000  of building space and roughly 75,000  of additional exterior yard space, including about 8 km of track on concrete slabs. Approximately 120 LRVs can be housed on the site, with up to 20 at a time inside the facility and up to 100 outside.

This impressive facility is, situated at the southeast corner of Lake Shore Boulevard East and Leslie Street where Leslieville meets Toronto’s Port Lands. Constructed by Pomerleau, the beautifully-built maintenance and storage facility (MSF) includes the largest green roof of any transit facility in Canada and has seamlessly incorporated numerous significant waste diversion measures.

The property was previously the waste soil receiving site for the Ashbridges Bay Treatment Plant, located immediately to the south. The waste treatment plant, Canada’s oldest and largest, experienced many expansions since its initial year of operation in 1917. The expansions resulted in a 400,000 m3 pile of impacted “excess soil” at the newly proposed Leslie Barns site. Beneath the pile of soil existed roughly 12+m of hydraulic fill from the original lake filling that took place starting in the mid-1800s and onwards.

GeoSolv, Leslie Barns, TTC, Pomerleau, TorontoLeslie Barns, image courtesy of GeoSolv Design/Build Inc.

An early enabling works package for this site was completed by EllisDon Civil in 2011-2012. This ambitious project involved the removal and disposal of the 400,000 m3 pile of soil, as well as the environmental capping of the impacted hydraulic fill below, plus preparation of the subgrade for the subsequent building and yard. This was a serious excess soil management endeavour, with well over 200 truckloads per day moving soil from the site for roughly 5 months; this impacted material needed to be properly disposed at a licensed facility well over 150 km away.

The soil profile for the site consisted of about 4-6 metres of impacted sandy hydraulic fill which contained all manner of things such as organics, refuse, brick and construction debris, old Gardner Expressway footings, as well as many wood obstructions (suspected old Corduroy Road). Under the fill, a thick layer of approximately 3-6 metres of organic silt/clay with peat layers was encountered. Below the organics were suitable native sand or silty clay till and the shale bedrock. With its close proximity to Lake Ontario, the water table at the site was situated at about 2-3 metres below general grades associated with adjacent Leslie Street. Additionally, soils at and below grade were also impacted with hydrocarbons and other contaminants.

Initially, driven piles were considered for the site with associated pile caps, grade beams, and structural floor slab, which would have created significant costs for the project. There were also concerns with the proposed grade raise across the site causing settlement (differential in particular) of the proposed track slabs and services on the site around the building. Excavation and replacement of the poor soils below grade were simply not considered and definitely not feasible.

Ultimately, the design team chose the Geopier Rammed Aggregate Pier® (RAP) system, using the Impact® method. The Impact System provided high-bearing capacity while effectively controlling settlement in the soft, highly organic soil profile. The RAP system also provided for radial drainage elements that served the dual purpose of draining the soil during preloading and for providing long-term settlement control and support to the new fill and track slabs.

The site also needed to be graded to Leslie Street and Commissioners Street, which is where the trains were to enter the new facility. A sizeable portion of the site had the 400,000 m3 soil stockpile on it which essentially served as a long and large “pre-load”. The portion of the site closest to Leslie street, however, did not have the advantage of this historical preloading, and therefore the sub-soils were in a much looser state than the soils that were buried under the soil pile for decades. This necessitated a different design approach for each of the two zones.

In the zone with no preload, Grouted Geopier elements were employed for footing support, given the high loads and general lack of long-term preload in that area. Ungrouted Geopier elements were also installed to support the structure’s floor slab through this zone. In other areas that were “unintentionally” preloaded by the large pile of spoil, no slab support was needed, and standard Rammed Aggregate Pier elements were utilized for footings.

Given the sheer size and scope of the project, specifications dictated a large array of required testing including over 10 individual full-scale Geopier modulus load tests, several very large-scale group footing and plate load tests, and many others. (Stay tuned for more detailed information of this testing program in an upcoming paper that is expected to be published in the next Canadian Geotechnical Society Conference, including settlement monitoring.)

In the end, well over 7,000 Rammed Aggregate Pier elements were installed to depths of up to 12m. Rapid installation and system flexibility sped up the project timelines significantly. The preload, which would have otherwise taken several years, was shortened to a few months with the Geopier elements in place as “structural drains.”

Major on-site challenges included the discovery of the old Gardiner Expressway footings. While they were very large and had to be removed, other smaller obstructions could easily be worked around, given the flexibility of the ground improvement system.

Overall, the ground improvement techniques and innovative systems met and exceeded the desired building performance, even with the very poor ground conditions that were encountered, and foundation construction that occurred through two of the worst winters in Toronto on record. Full-scale post-settlement monitoring was also undertaken which verified that the foundation settlements were in line with predicted movements, despite the difficulties encountered during foundation construction within the winter months.

This project is a beacon of possibility in terms of what can be accomplished with Innovative Foundation Solutions on some of the worst soils in Toronto.

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Real Estate

7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary





Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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Real Estate

‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market





The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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Real Estate

10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers





Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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