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Sister Margaret O’Keefe’s ties to Loretto College School run deep. For most of her 84 years, the former school on Brunswick Ave. has been an important presence in her life — as a student, teacher, resident and Sister Superior.
Now that the second of two buildings once owned by the Loretto Sisters on Brunswick, north of Bloor St. W., is being converted into lofts called The Schoolhouse Lofts, the end of an era is complete.
Sister Margaret says she gets “very nostalgic” when she thinks of how the buildings’ days as a school are finally over. The school, which educated thousands of Catholic girls over its lifetime, was a “special” place, she says, and the Annex neighbourhood “was a wonderful place to live.”
A fire in December 1999 at the older of the two buildings, at 387 Brunswick, turned out to be the beginning of the end for the Loretto Sisters on the street. The grand five-storey structure had opened its doors to 200 pupils in September 1915 as the Loretto Abbey Day School.
Although the fire was a catalyst, Sister Margaret says the number of sisters living on Brunswick was falling. “The writing was on the wall,” she says. “As the years went by, people were moving or dying. So something was going to have to be done eventually.”
The next year, Loretto’s Brunswick students were moved to a temporary location until a permanent home was found on Rosemount Ave. In 2001, the Sisters made the difficult decision to sell the 1915 building, which by then had been designated a heritage site, and the school next door at 391 Brunswick, which opened in 1954. The buildings were sold as one property, but the new owner later resold them as separate entities.
The conversion of the older building into lofts was completed in 2007. Now, the 1954 building is going through its own transformation as the Schoolhouse Lofts — 19 high-end lofts, each one slightly different from the next and each occupying a classroom in the 55-year-old structure.
Developed by Empire Communities, the three-storey building now boasts two additional floors that are surrounded by balconies and spacious terraces overlooking the leafy neighbourhood. Those additional floors are home to five two-storey penthouses that are perfect for entertaining and provide stunning views of the neighbourhood and Casa Loma, says Paul Golini Jr., executive vice-president of Empire.
“The Annex fascinated us because it is its own little built-in community. There’s a lot of history there and proximity to great cultural amenities, but it is still a very residential-based neighbourhood,” says Golini, who grew up in the neighbourhood.
Empire had never handled a loft conversion before this project, he says, but when the former school became available, “we thought there was this great opportunity to get involved in a landmark in that area and help maintain the architecture of the school, while being able to provide an opportunity for people to live in this little enclave.”
Golini calls the conversion “complicated,” noting that the rear facade and a gymnasium at the back of the building were demolished, and a parking garage was built underneath. The back of the structure was rebuilt and the two additional storeys were added.
Claude Lacombe, the principal of E.I. Richmond Architects Ltd., estimates that two-thirds of the original structure was kept. “We wanted to give the building new life while preserving as many of the original features as possible,” he says, adding that the red-brick masonry, as well as such structural elements as supporting walls and window heights, have been retained.
In an attempt to capture the site’s heritage, the Schoolhouse Loft suites have been named after esteemed academic institutions, many of them members of the Ivy League. Living in The Harvard, The Notre Dame, The Oxford, The Princeton and The Yale, among others, adds a certain prestige to the units. (For a Canadian flavour, the University of Toronto, McGill University and Queen’s University are included.)
While the names no doubt lend a sense of prestige, Lacombe says, much of that atmosphere comes from the neighbourhood itself, which is close to U of T, the Royal Ontario Museum, art galleries, fine restaurants, theatres and the exclusive shops of Yorkville.
The building’s “best amenity,” Golini says, is its location. Because the Schoolhouse Lofts has only 19 units, the only shared amenity, aside from the parking garage, is a courtyard that runs across the back of the building. Designed by landscape architect Arnis Budrevics of Alexander Budrevics and Associates, the quiet space includes gardens, trees, sitting areas, a barbecue station and a fountain.
“Because this is a very urban conversion with not a lot of space, we did not have the opportunity, but more importantly, we didn’t think it necessitated putting in a lot of amenities,” Golini says. “There wasn’t enough room to put in a pool, and it adds to the price, especially with so few units. We thought we could really take advantage of a secluded courtyard, and that’s where we focused our attention and our efforts.”
For the interior design, the developers brought in Bryon Patton and Associates Ltd., while 3rd Uncle Design Inc. is responsible for designing the suites and the common areas. The lofts feature NEFF kitchen cabinetry, Viking appliances, Kohler bathroom fixtures, granite, marble or CaesarStone kitchen countertops with undermount sink, engineered prefinished hardwood flooring and frameless glass showers.
The lofts include one-bedroom plus den, two bedroom and two-bedroom plus den, and range in size from 1,032 to 2,092 square feet, with prices from $629,900 to more than $1.6 million. Four units have been sold and occupancy begins early this year.
Because the building hadn’t received a heritage designation, Golini says his firm could have simply demolished it and started from scratch.
“It costs us much more to maintain parts of the building and work within the confines of the existing structure and façade than to knock it down,” he says. “I would have to say the ultimate expression of sustainability is that you need not totally demolish an existing building.”
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