Heart of green

Posted on Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Représentation de la Place de l’Université montrant du béton coloré en zigzag entouré d’arbres en feuilles et des promeneurs.

This is what University Square will look like: a useful oasis in the centre of the main campus.

By Mike Foster

Jokes about finding vanished union boss Jimmy Hoffa circulated around the campus in August 2015 when a mangled 1960s car was unearthed as work began to transform University Square.

The mystery didn’t set back the construction schedule, however. The new multi-purpose green space at the heart of uOttawa’s campus is on track to be ready within weeks. With the spring planting of some 50 trees and hundreds of bushes and perennials, this former parking lot will be transformed into a 4,000-square-metre green plaza. In late April, a large marquee tent — designed for temporary use during convocations, galas and festivals — will be erected on the site, just in time for the signature event of Alumni Week 2016, Come Together uOttawa!

Located next to the Social Sciences Building, University Square is a central feature of uOttawa’s Campus Master Plan, which recently won its designers, Urban Strategies Inc., a 2016 National Award of Excellence (PDF 148KB) from the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects. The square is a green, pedestrianized zone within the core precinct of the main campus where most teaching, research and socializing takes place.

University Square construction site with coloured concrete paths in a zig-zag pattern. Tarps cover the ground and construction workers are busy.

Construction of University Square, which includes a pattern in coloured concrete, will be finished in a matter of weeks.

Project manager Marc Lacelle says the discovery of the mangled car was a surprise, but Ottawa Police quickly ruled out foul play. The car had probably been in the basement of a home bulldozed in the 1970s.

“Luckily for us, it did not become an episode of CSI,” Lacelle said. “The discovery had no effect on our schedule or costs, just a little excitement for one day and something fun to talk about later on.”

Other surprises were typical of a job in which more than half the work took place underground. Much of the wiring, tent anchoring foundations and drainage system required a high level of precision to make sure that all the components fit together, he said.

“One major plus for us was the weather in November and December, which allowed us to pour half an acre of coloured concrete without having to build heated enclosures,” Lacelle said. “We are doing well for time. We hit a few snags along the way but that had to be expected.

“It’s all hands on deck for the next four weeks to get the remaining tent-anchoring components and stage built before the tent is put up. The last two weeks of April should be very exciting, seeing the final product come together.”

In her 1970 song Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell lamented that “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” The University of Ottawa, in true Defy the Conventional style, has ripped up the parking lot and created a useful oasis.

University Square fun facts:

  • More than 100 40-foot steel piles have been embedded into the ground to anchor the tent.
  • A dedicated storm water management system, which includes underground water retention pits, has been installed to slow the flow of water into City of Ottawa storm sewers.
  • A carefully planned 2.9 kilometre network of electrical conduits has been buried underground to provide power and communications to the events tent. This means that events can be held without the need for hundreds of cables lying across the floor or noisy generators.
  • The tent’s maximum capacity will be 3,000 people standing, or around 1,600 seated with a view of the stage.
  • Construction required 1,200 tonnes of concrete, 2.4 kilometres of wood decking and 1,000 tonnes of new topsoil.
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