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Evergreen Brick Works flood recovery plan contains lessons for Toronto

Evergreen Brick Works after the flood on July 8, 2013. EVERGREEN BRICK WORKS.

When Toronto was hit with historic rainfall earlier this month, it seemed the city was caught by surprise: subways shutdown, cars were left abandoned, and hundreds of GO Train passengers were stranded for hours before being rescued by officers for the Toronto Marine Unit.

But at Evergreen Brick Works, the community environmental centre located right in the Don River flood plain, staff were ready and waiting.  Located adjacent to the Lower Don River,  Evergreen Brick Works, which opened to the public in 2010, was built with the inevitability of flooding in mind.

“[The flood] didn’t take us by surprise,” says David Stonehouse, Evergreen Brick Works’ general manager. “We always watch the precipitation radar on the Environment Canada website, so we knew something was coming. We have [an] evacuation plan when we think there is a chance that the site might flood. And, in this case, we closed the site proactively.”

“Most people wouldn’t have been able to build on this site,” says Stonehouse. “We were allowed to build by the Toronto Region and Conservation Authority because the Authority made a decision that the heritage of the site was worth protecting….you wouldn’t do something like this under normal circumstance.”

Among other flood-proofing measures, Evergreen Brick Works keeps all expensive electric and mechanical equipment on the second floor or higher of all its buildings.  So, while water did enter the buildings after the July flood, no expensive equipment was damaged.

“We also used a lot of very durable material,” adds Stonehouse. “We used masonry and have a lot of concrete floors. We didn’t use carpet or dry wall. We used materials that were basically able to be power washed and cleaned. So we could clean and quickly reopen.”

Evergreen Brick Works also boasts an elaborate system of greenways (rows of shrubs that trap groundwater) that are designed to quickly get water out of the site and into a storm water management pond and eventually out to the Don River.

The flood on July 8th was the second major flooding Brick Works experienced this year (the first was in May). Water entered the buildings in both cases, the first time in Brick Works’ three-year history.

“We’ve flooded previously, but in our time it hasn’t actually entered the buildings,” says Stonehouse. “When the water doesn’t enter the buildings, cleanup is a much more straight forward enterprise.”

“In both [the May and July] situations, the water entered all of our buildings and that meant we had to dry out buildings, drain out the water, clean out residual water, dry and disinfect…”

But, despite the additional clean up effort involved, the Brick Works was able to re-open to tenants within 24-hours of the site evacuation, and to the public within just 48.