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After more than a year closed, Craigleith Heritage Depot welcomes back patrons

The museum/satellite library/archive closed its doors last fall due to high levels of radon, but has since done $9,000 worth of work to remedy the issue

Radon issues at the Craigleith Heritage Depot have been resolved and the community hub is up and running again.

“The museum has no more radon issues and is now a safe and welcoming place for staff and our visitors,” said Andrea Wilson, curator of the Craigleith Heritage Depot.

The Depot is a museum, a branch of the Blue Mountains Public Library (BMPL), an archive and a tourism information centre, located along Highway 26 in Craigleith.

The Depot was closed last fall after issues with poor air quality led to the discovery of high levels of radon in the historical building, which once served as the local train station.

“Radon gas is a product of the decay of radioactive elements that naturally occur in rocks and stones in the soil. Local knowledge of the Craigleith-area has identified Depot neighbours having dealt with radon gas within their homes in the past,” noted Ryan Gibbons, director of community services for the Town of the Blue Mountains (TBM) in a recent staff report to council.

Following the discovery of radon, a working group was formed, which consisted of Wilson, Gibbons, TBM's manager of facilities, the library CEO, and the town's director of human resources.

“The approach regarding remediation was a team effort with the library and the TBM. Meetings were held in the early phase bi-weekly and then as work progressed it was on an as-needed basis,” said Wilson.

Remediation of the radon was completed by a certified contractor in February.

Throughout the process, the working group also turned to the expertise of Robert Lanterno, the Municipality of Grey Highlands Museum Curator, as well as communicating with the Canadian Conservation Institute and used the work of Jean Tetreault and Airborne Pollutants in Museums, Galleries and Archives: Risk Assessment, Control Strategies, and Preservation Management.

“The recommendation was to change our process of how we accepted and stored the artifacts that were creating the air quality issues in the facility,” said Gibbons.

Following the contract work, museum staff also clocked 300 hours moving, tracking and containing artifacts.

“The work of moving the collection out and back, tracking and enclosure was done as part of our normal staff hours, with some additional hours required to complete the project in the spring and summer. This meant the staff were very kept very busy during the closure,” Wilson explained.

“In addition there was an air quality issue which the museum itself addressed by sealing the floor and walls, removing old rusted shelving and providing enclosures for the collection. This has allowed for any voltaics to be reduced in the building. A portable air scrubber, air filter, dehumidifiers and humidifiers were purchased to maintain air quality controls, along with a monitoring system,” she continued.

In April, a monitoring system called AirThings was installed to monitor the air quality going forward.

A pre-existing exhaust fan was also put into service in the basement to pull in fresh air from outside.

The testing devices collected data until August when test results were sent to the lab.

“The largest concern within the air quality, and health and safety of staff and patrons was the radon, which is far below the acceptable levels. Clearance testing was provided through the public health unit with results returned at 15 Becquerels per cubic meter (Bq/m3), which is well below the Environmental Protection Agency action level of 200 Bq/m3,” Gibbons stated. 

Early-on in the process of remediation, the working group had assumed the Depot’s HVAC system would need to be replaced, however after working through the proper steps with experts, it has been determined that the HVAC system does not need to be replaced.

The cost of replacing the HVAC system would have come with a $25,000 price tag.

According to town staff, the current system is scheduled to be replaced within the next 10 years with replacement funding to come through the facility asset replacement reserve fund.

Air quality levels within the depot are now being monitored constantly with levels being reviewed monthly by maintenance staff.

The installed monitoring devices are also equipped with warning lights to alert on-site staff of any areas of concern.

“We have continued to work on improving the collection storage area with sealed moveable shelving which allows for improved space use and maintenance. The collection care and staff health have been at the forefront of this project and we are pleased to be back open in a safe and healthy environment,” Wilson added.

The remediation process cost a total of $9,000, which was unbudgeted and will be drawn from the TBM’s Asset Replacement Reserve Fund.

According to the town, the Craigleith Heritage Depot is 139 years old. Originally a rail station from 1880 to 1960, the building was then used as the Depot Fine Dining from 1967 to 2001.

In 2008, the restoration of the depot was made possible by the financial support of over 250 Craigleith residents.

In 2016, the BMPL acquired the depot and added a book deposit station within the museum as a pilot study. Soon after, hours of operation grew from seasonal, one day per week to being open six days a week, year-round.

Now, with the radon issues resolved, the museum is excited to get back to (almost) regular operations.

“During COVID-19 protocols we have three zones of access – the library drop-in area for pick-up of holds and light browsing of materials, the museum gallery area where visitors in their group bubble can book a 40-minute visit, and the archives research room where individuals can book a 40-minute session for the computer or for access to the reference collection and research requests,” Wilson explained.

The Depot’s current hours of operation are: Tuesday noon to 4 p.m., Wednesday 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Thursday noon to 4 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“Although no one wants this type of situation to occur, it has provided the opportunity to have such investments in our community museum and heritage building so we can provide best practices,” Wilson added.

Jennifer Golletz

About the Author: Jennifer Golletz

Jennifer Golletz covers civic matters under the Local Journalism Initative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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