663 Princess St. not daunted by fire

After 22 charges laid in connection to December fire, complex still expecting to open in Sept. 2015

663 Princess St. is under development again after a fire last December.
663 Princess St. is under development again after a fire last December.
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663 Princess St. was the site of a fire in December.
663 Princess St. was the site of a fire in December.

Heralded by an information session Wednesday evening in the ARC, the 663 Princess St. development is back underway after last winter’s fire.

Reconstruction of the building at the corner of Princess and Victoria Streets is currently underway, following a fire on Dec. 17, 2013 that destroyed the original building.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour laid 22 charges on Aug. 26 in connection to the fire.

The charges were laid against two companies: Jay Patry Enterprises, Inc. and Stelmach Property Management Inc.; and three individuals: Jason Patry, Nathan Patry and Troy Stelmach.

Charges against Patry Inc. include failure to inspect every fire extinguisher for defects or deterioration, failure to ensure an adequate means of egress was provided from a work area to permit the evacuation of workers during an emergency and obstruction of a Ministry of Labour inspector.

Two counts of failure to comply with requirements issued by a Ministry of Labour inspector were laid against Stelmach Property Management Inc.

Following a court appearance on Sept. 30 in Kingston, the charges were remanded to Nov. 27.

Patry Inc. was unable to comment on the charges because the legal process is ongoing.

Natania Ziesmann, designer and leasing agent at Patry Inc., led the first information session of the season for the new building.

She said the new building will consist “more or less completely [of] students” and will include units with two to five bedrooms each.

Features of the building — washers and dryers in every unit, free Starbucks coffee, a fitness facility and more — were discussed during the session, as was the lease signing process.

Leasing will begin in summer 2015 and the building will be complete by Sept. 2015.

After the session, Ziesmann told the Journal that there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding wood frame construction.

“Wood is actually most likely better in a fire scenario than steel, ‘cause steel at a certain degree just starts bending, versus wood builds up the char and it kind of acts as a fire protection to the core of the wood,” she said.

“I actually took a seminar after [the fire] happened too, to be a little more educated about it,” she added. “It’s completely safe — I don’t see any negative aspects whatsoever in wood frame construction. It’s pretty much safer than any standard residential family home.”

Ziesmann added that students interested in wood frame construction should educate themselves — by looking at the Canadian Wood Council website, for example.

“If somebody’s really seriously interested and wants to have an educated opinion, I would really recommend that they do read a little bit up and then understand what we’re actually talking about, and not just say what some person said.”

Adam Green, architectural technologist for Patry Inc., said buildings like malls or 663 Princess Street are much safer than residential single-family homes and are built under a different section of the Ontario Building Code.

“It falls in commercial. So, there’s a residential where it’s single family houses, just houses, and this is held to a higher standard, it’s so much higher,” he said.

He said the only thing that changed when the building was redone was how careful the construction workers are, with more fire extinguishers on-site than before.

Cory Houde-Shulman, property management at Patry Inc., said that if students have concerns about 663 Princess, they should also be concerned about housing in the University District.

“Those houses are hundreds of years old, right? And a lot of them are lacking upkeep. This is a brand new building, so once it’s fully constructed, it will be safer than the majority of the buildings you’re staying in right now,” he said.

Houde-Shulman said those opposed to the project are generally more vocal, although there is an equal but less vocal group that’s supportive of the building, including many students he spoke to at this year’s Sidewalk Sale on campus.

He added that he doesn’t know what the cause of the December fire was.

“They did an investigation and they never released the cause.”

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