The Brief

By providing key architectural and structural services, RVA managed to weave the old with the new to enhance a historical water treatment plant in the City of Hamilton for a more modern age.

Project Overview

Restoring a piece of Hamilton’s history, taking it into its next chapter

First constructed in the 1930s, the Woodward Avenue Water Treatment Plant (WTP) is a singular facility in the City of Hamilton’s infrastructure: as the only water treatment plant servicing the greater urban area, it provides water for consumption and fire protection for over 500,000 people in the community. Located on what was once the 1859 Hamilton Waterworks complex, the plant houses the Hamilton Museum of Steam & Technology, a National Historic Site of Canada that preserves the City’s historical relationship with water, steam power, and industrialization.

The 909 ML/d plant in the present day stands as a civil and power engineering landmark and remains the City’s sole source of drinking water. But while process upgrades had occurred since its original construction, the plant’s superstructure had not been touched in over 70 years and was quickly deteriorating. RVA was retained by the City of Hamilton to lead the restoration of this living artifact of the City’s industrial past. This $25 million architectural and structural restoration involved a high lift pumping station, filter building, a two-storey administrative building addition, and nine other ancillary buildings totaling 5,800 m2 (63,000 ft2).

Detail-by-detail architectural restoration

Hamilton is defined by the unique character and history of its infrastructure, and many of its water and wastewater facilities have been deemed heritage buildings. Woodward Avenue WTP is no different. In each space, RVA Architecture addressed specific features to preserve the facility’s distinct art moderne style. We provided for generous natural lighting through tall windows and a windowed clerestory above the filter gallery to minimize the need for artificial lighting and its associated energy use. Along the exterior, we replaced the damaged Indiana limestone at the entranceways with historical replicas, with antique bronze doors to complete the period look. Interior improvements included terrazzo flooring, oversized hanging light fixtures, and the refurbishment of the antique filter control panels and filter rate clocks. The result is a one-of-a-kind “museum-like” building with custom and style-appropriate details throughout, proving that antiquated edifices can indeed be revitalized while still blending well with current contexts.

An innovative construction approach

As the central operations centre for the City of Hamilton’s water system, the replacement of the plant’s superstructure had to be completed around existing, active processes on a highly constrained site. To meet the two-year federal deadline of the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund, as well the plant’s operational requirements, our team worked closely with City of Hamilton staff to undertake complex construction sequencing to allow for continuous service in tandem with efficient, precise construction. While one half of the plant remained operational, the other was taken offline during consecutive winters to minimize disruptions to water production during peak demand, particularly in the summer months. The presence of other ongoing construction projects under separate engineering consultants at the site also added to the inherent complexities of retrofitting an active plant on such a large scale. To streamline the administration, RVA’s contract administrator was made the single point of contact for progress payments for all construction elements. This innovative construction and coordination approach allowed half of the plant to be demolished, rebuilt, and commissioned on schedule, leading to significant cost savings and minimal disruptions to the community at large.

Improved sustainability for peak performance

While rehabilitation offered clear cost efficiencies over the construction of a new plant, it also allowed for considerable savings in terms of construction carbon footprint. Throughout the construction period, our team stockpiled demolished materials for reuse in other projects, achieving a 90 per cent waste diversion rate. We also added new insulation and vapour barriers for the entire superstructure to regulate temperatures and reduce heat loss. These improvements – combined with our restoration efforts to minimize soil excavation and the need for new materials – allowed the overall project to remain within its existing carbon footprint.

Carefully updated and restored, the new and improved Woodward Avenue Water Treatment Plant feels authentic to its time and place – staying true to its historical context, while serving the modern needs of a greater and stronger Hamilton community.