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A large crane signals the growth of Renfrew

An Ottawa developer begins construction on what will be Renfrew's largest apartment complex and it's expected other developers will follow as the town prepares for housing and population growth with the arrival of a twinned highway.

The arrival of a towering crane last week in the town of Renfrew, with a population of just over 8,100, may be considered a sign of big things to come for the historic community nestled between the Bonnechere River and the soon-to-be four-lane Highway 417.

Located 45 minutes west of Ottawa, the town has had visits by various Ottawa developers hoping to take advantage of the impending twinning of Highway 17 from Ottawa. They are driven by the anticipation that the same type of housing boom that occurred in Arnprior shortly after the highway twinning project was completed, will happen again in Renfrew.

In 2007, Arnprior went from a sleepy town of 7,000 to 10,000 in a 10-year span and today the new four-lane highway has cut the average driving time from Ottawa using the old single-lane trip from 45 to 25 minutes, bringing with it an explosive population and housing growth that has not stopped. The town currently has several large scale residential projects taking place with no sign of slowing down.

Projected growth for Renfrew

Francis Lepine, a successful Ottawa developer who has carved out a niche as one of the city’s premier builders, has spent the last twenty years building adult-lifestyle communities geared toward the empty nesters in several areas of the city.

In 2020 he was the first major Ottawa-based developer to arrive in Renfrew to gauge the town’s potential for a luxury apartment community. Prior to his arrival, there had never been any indication the town was ready for such a shift in apartment living.

However, over the last two years he has seen his vision of his Ottawa style adult community built for Renfrew go from a dream to a reality as the third of six buildings is currently under construction.

Lepine Lodge, the town's largest luxury apartment complex, is quickly taking shape and no doubt will be the first of more to come as the town prepares to follow Arnprior’s lead of transforming from a quaint and quiet town to a future home for those seeking a slower pace of life, or for many, a chance to return home to the place where many happy childhood memories were made.

He has marketed the location by promoting the rural lifestyle with easy access to snowmobile trails located directly behind the complex and the simple life of strolling through the historic downtown as a draw for those hoping to leave behind the hustle and bustle of Ottawa.

The commute from Ottawa to Renfrew is projected to be reduced from 60 to 45 minutes once the highway is completed in the next seven years.

The first building quickly filled with renters, many of them coming back home to Renfrew after years of waiting for a home that matched their needs. Others are local farmers from all parts of the Ottawa Valley who have sold the homestead and retired to a local condominium-style complex without the condo fees.

The second building has already passed projected leasing forecasts and the third building, which will include an indoor pool, fitness centre and other amenities, has taken root.

Crane needed to stay on schedule 

In order for construction to be completed on the central building of the six-building complex, large cement panels must be installed on the six-story building, a job that requires not just a crane, but a 500-tonne crane that is in high demand throughout eastern Ontario and must be booked months in advance during a very busy construction season.

Lépine, the man whose name will be placed on the roof once the buildings are complete, understands the importance of having a machine of this magnitude onsite during this phase of the build.

“We have used some of the heaviest cranes on some of our other projects, but in this case, we needed a machine that cannot only lift a 6,000 pound cement frame, but it has to be able to tower over the building when it uses its hydraulic lift and cable to actually lift the frame from one side of the building over the roof and place it on the opposite side. That job requires a special kind of crane.”

He explained that although the larger crane comes with a higher price tag, it will save time and money in the end due to its ability to not only lift larger frames, but its use allows the project to continue on schedule.

“We used smaller cranes around the site leading up until the larger one arrived," he said. "If we kept using the smaller ones, a lot of extra work would have been needed to get that job done. We would have had to build extra service roads, build barriers and slow down construction on that particular building and keeping on schedule is hard enough without making extra work for ourselves.”

Renfrew welcomes Lepine

Usually when a developer holds a mandatory public meeting in the community where a large scale residential complex is scheduled to begin construction, it's not uncommon for the developer to face a large crowd, often filled with hostile neighbours objecting to the project.

They are most often fearful that a way of life they have become accustomed to may be threatened. Sometimes the small vocal minority are successful and force either the cancellation of the project or convince the local government to demand a major reduction of the developer’s blueprint.

In the case of Lépine’s Renfrew plan, he met no such opposition. In fact, when a public meeting was held in the town’s council chambers, the 50 or more residents that attended the November 2019 meeting expressed overall support for the project.

“It was a pleasant surprise from what we were accustomed to when we held meetings in some parts of Ottawa,” Lepine said at the time. “It is certainly a sight to behold when the majority of residents come out and show support for something completely different from what they are used to.”

Just as that sight was unique, the same can be said watching the crane in operation as the cables are attached to one of the cement frames. Able to reach a maximum height of 207 feet and anchored by a 220,000 pound counterweight, it's able to lift the 6,000 pound frame with ease.

As the crane operator controls the slow ascent towards the roof with the arm of the crane, it clears the building and eventually lowers only a few metres from where Lepine watches its descent as he still marvels at the strength of the crane.

Three workers guide the frame down to the ground and successfully place it where the main entrance will soon be open to welcome residents into the pool, fitness centre, community room or one of the luxury apartments located on the five floors above the ground entrance.

As the frame settles into place, Lepine reflects on the progress of his latest project. He is happy with what he has seen and his vision of the Ottawa Valley’s first major luxury apartment complex is slowly coming to fruition.

“It is incredible the positive response we have had for this project,” he said. “It is not just Renfrew, but we have people from all over the Ottawa Valley and Ottawa waiting to move in. Many are downsizing and searching for a smaller unit that has all the perks of a condo without the condo fees.

“Having this crane on site is just one part of many elements that are coming together to help those people move in as soon the building is ready. When you see them becoming part of a new community, it makes all of us at Lepine proud to have made that possible.”

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