This fall has been an exciting time for transit geeks in the GTA. In September, the TTC announced that articulated busses would once again ply Toronto's streets. At the beginning of October, UrbanToronto spied the first of Toronto's new streetcars in a rail yard in the west end. We were also present last week when the TTC gave a hands-on preview of the new car to lucky members of the media.

New Bombardier Flexity Outlook Streetcars, image courtesy of the TTCNew Bombardier Flexity Outlook Streetcars, image courtesy of the Toronto Transit Commission

Another vital but less-talked about piece of Toronto's evolving transit network is the Ashbridges Bay Streetcar Maintenance & Storage Facility, recently redubbed 'The Leslie Barn.' This 279,463 square foot facility will be sited on a piece of vacant land at the southeast corner of Leslie Street and Lake Shore Blvd. It will house 100 of the new Flexity Streetcars and provide fleet repair services for up to 20 vehicles at a time. The remaining 104 will be split equally between the existing Roncesvales Carhouse (c. 1896) and the Russell Carhouse (c. 1916).

A lot of study goes in to choosing a new location for a streetcar facility; it's an expensive proposition, and a very land-consumptive one. We go in depth to look at what it has taken to get shovels in the ground.

The Site

The decision to build at Ashbridges Bay was the result of a three-stage process that identified 14 sites and selected six which met the following criteria:

  • Property requirement approximately 22 acres
  • Close proximity to existing streetcar network
  • Minimal relocation of existing business and facilities
  • Minimize crossing of existing railroad tracks

The six sites which moved to the second round of consideration were:

The six sites short listed for the facility, image courtesy of the TTCThe six sites short listed for the facility, image courtesy of the Toronto Transit Commission

  1. Ashbridges Bay: South-east corner of Leslie Street and Lake Shore Boulevard East.
  2. Eastern Avenue: Between Eastern Avenue and Lake Shore Boulevard East, east of Heward Avenue.
  3. TEDCO: North side of Unwin Avenue, east of Regatta Road.
  4. Cascade: South side of Commissioner’s Street, east of Bouchette Street.
  5. Concrete Plant: South-west corner of Leslie Street and Commissioner’s Street.
  6. Hearn Generating Plant: North side of Unwin Avenue, east of Site 3.

From this list, it was determined that the Ashbridges Bay was the best choice. TTC requested that council acqure the land and in December 2009, the 18 acre parcel was transferred from the Toronto Port Authorty to the City. One of the drawbacks of this site however was that it was heavily contaminated and required $60 million worth of soil remediation.

Immediate context, image courtesy of Google Earth, edited by Nigel TerpstraImmediate context, image courtesy of Google Earth, edited by Nigel Terpstra

City context, image courtesy of Google Earth, edited by Nigel TerpstraCity context, image courtesy of Google Earth, edited by Nigel Terpstra

The Leslie Barn

The tender for the facility itself requires the winning bidder to construct four buildings totalling 18,236 m². The scope of work includes site preparation, construction of the MSF building, a traction power substation, a storage yard, and the preparation of a construction waste management and disposal plan. The four buildings are: a Carhouse 17,510 sq m; the Traction Power Substation: 685 sq m; the Yard Control Huts 16 sq m; an Irrigation Hut 25 sq m.

The only images currently available for the facility itself are some preliminary studies and at this time no detailed drawings have emerged. They are promising however, depicting a long, low brick, steel and glass curtainwall building with a clerestory window and an expressively-trussed roof.

Leslie Barn elevation drawings, image courtesy of the Toronto Transit ComissionLeslie Barn elevation drawings, image courtesy of the Toronto Transit Commission

A rendering from the initial presentation in 2009:

View of new facility from across Leslie Street, image courtesy of the TTCView of new facility from across Leslie Street, image courtesy of the Toronto Transit Commission

A revised render from November 2012 depicts a more modern building with a mix of metallic and brick cladding, a large clerestory window and a curved roof. A glass-clad stair half way down the building expresses its vertical circulation on the exterior.

The most-recent image of The Leslie Barn, image courtesy of the TTCThe most-recent image of The Leslie Barn, image courtesy of the Toronto Transit Commission

This plan view illustrates a number of green features such as an extensive green roof and a stormwater mangement pond. As this is an earlier image, it does not depict the current landscape design by local firm Brown + Storey Architects, but we'll get to that a bit later.

Preliminary Context Plan for The Leslie Barn, image courtesy of the TTCPreliminary Context Plan for The Leslie Barn, image courtesy of the Toronto Transit Commission

The facility features three underground maintenance bays and an additional four indoor tracks. Outside, an additional nine tracks provide space for 100 cars. There is also a 250m brake test track and a drop-off spur.

Preliminary Track Plan for The Leslie Barn, image courtesy of the TTCPreliminary Track Plan for The Leslie Barn, image courtesy of the Toronto Transit Commission

As of January 2012, there have been only minor revisions to the original site plan. The most notable difference the reversal of the siting of the substation and the stormwater management pond.

The most-recent site plan for The Leslie Barn, image courtesy of the TTCThe most-recent site plan for The Leslie Barn, image courtesy of the Toronto Transit Commission

Ten firms bid on the tender to build the facility:

  • $238,339,600.00 - Pomerleau Inc
  • $238,678,600.00 - EllisDon Corporation
  • $241,955,945.00 - Carillion Construction Inc.
  • $254,085,213.00 - Walsh Construction Company
  • $256,291,391.00 - PCL
  • $271,307,240.00 - Elite Construction Inc.
  • $271,307,240.00 - OHL Construction Canada Inc
  • $282,515,613.00 - AECON
  • $287,088,963.44 - Aquicon Construction Co. Ltd.
  • $287,088,963.44 - Black & McDonald Limited

At its meeting on January 31, 2012, the Commission approved the award of the facility construction contract to Pomerleau Inc of Montreal. According to a report dated March 30, 2012: "The contract has yet to be awarded, as staff await site plan approval, which will trigger release of the building permit," but as of May, the City reported that the contract had been: "officially awarded to Pomerleau Inc." and that "...Crews will be mobilizing in June, 2012 with preconstruction activity. The project is scheduled for completion in late 2014."

Connecting to the Existing Streetcar Network

The next step is to connect the facility to the existing network. The 2010 environmental assessment examined 11 potential routes and evaluated them according to a number of criteria including capital construction and ongoing maintenance costs, planning and environmental considerations and community input.

Possible locations for connecting track, image courtesy of the TTCPossible locations for connecting track, image courtesy of the Toronto Transit Commission

Through this process, Leslie Street was selected as the preferred location for new track.

Leslie Street track connection north to Queen Street East, image courtesy of TTCThe preferred Leslie Street track connection north to Queen Street East, image courtesy of the Toronto Transit Commission

The TTC believes that the Leslie / Queen Street  intersection should look like this when complete in 2014.

Queen and Leslie Streets before and after, image courtesy of the TTCQueen and Leslie Streets before and after, image courtesy of the Toronto Transit Commission

The process suffered a brief hiccup in Febuary 2012 when staff were requested to reexamine the 11 routes originally identified. It was determined that the only other route worth seriously considering was the Knox/Eastern/Russell route as it was comparible in capital cost and would connect the new Ashbridges Bay facility with the existing Russell Yard.

Alternative route for the connection track, image courtesy of the TTCAlternative route for the connection track, image courtesy of the Toronto Transit Commission

Alternative route for the connection track, image courtesy of the TTCAlternative route for the connection track, image courtesy of the Toronto Transit Commission

Detail of the connection between The Leslie Barn and Knox Ave, image courtesyTTCDetail of the connection between The Leslie Barn and Knox Ave, image courtesy of the Toronto Transit Commission

In the end, Staff concluded that the Leslie Street route was still the best option as the Knox route would have a higher operating cost and would requrie a new EA (a 12-15 month delay).

Landscape Plan

The Leslie Barn will feature landscaping by Brown + Storey Architects, authors of Yonge Dundas Square and partners (with architectsAlliance) on the recent transformation of Bloor Street. The firm, led by James Brown and Kim Storey, will be joined by landscape architect Scott Torrance who will help implement their design. Though the firm will focus on the street presence of the Maintenance and Storage Facility itself, it will also explore streetscape options on Leslie Street north to Queen (as of March 2012, design was reported to be approaching 60% completion).

Brown + Storey were selected through a competition with also included Fleisher Ridout and gh3. Unfortunately, the competeing submissions are no longer available online.

Brown + Storey Architects' winning scheme, image courtesy of the Toronto TransitBrown + Storey Architects' winning scheme, image courtesy of the Toronto Transit Commission

Plan of Brown + Storey Architects' winning scheme, image courtesy of the TTCPlan of Brown + Storey Architects' winning scheme, image courtesy of the Toronto Transit Commission

Inspiration behind Brown + Storey Architects' winning scheme, image courtesy TTCInspiration behind Brown + Storey Architects' winning scheme, image courtesy of the Toronto Transit Commission

At a public meeting in November 2011, Brown + Storey presented a revised plan which built on the strenghts of their original scheme and clarified detials such as plantings and the siting of public spaces. The scheme will feature a mix of larger ornamental trees, smaller canopy trees, shrubs, hedgerows and other small groundcover such as perennieals and grasses.

Brown + Storey's revised scheme, image courtesy of the Toronto Transit ComissionBrown + Storey's revised scheme, image courtesy of the Toronto Transit Commission

Plan of Brown + Storey Architects' final scheme, image courtesy of the TTCPlan of Brown + Storey Architects' final scheme, image courtesy of the Toronto Transit Commission

Brown + Storey's revised scheme, image courtesy of the Toronto Transit ComissionBrown + Storey's revised scheme, image courtesy of the Toronto Transit Commission

As Toronto and the GTA slowly but surely begin to refocus on transit, projects like the Ashbridges Bay Streetcar Maintenance & Storage Facility become just another piece of the puzzle. The committment to design excellence, adherence to higher-environmental standards and value added features like competition-winning urban design and public art are all symbolic of what is possible when Toronto holds itself accountable.

It is certainly a transformative time for transit in the GTA. Unfortunate setbacks such as the elimination of the Ontario Northlander service aside, there is still much to be excited about.