Officers' Square to be off limits beginning this month as renovations ramp up

·4 min read
Fredericton's Officers' Square will be closed to the public starting this spring when city crews begin installing new metal fencing on the southern and eastern perimeter of the park. (City of Fredericton - image credit)
Fredericton's Officers' Square will be closed to the public starting this spring when city crews begin installing new metal fencing on the southern and eastern perimeter of the park. (City of Fredericton - image credit)

Don't expect to be able to spend an afternoon lounging on the lawn at Officers' Square this summer, or the next.

The park in downtown Fredericton is set to undergo the next stage of a $10.4 million renovation, which will require the city to close access to it beginning as soon as this month and continuing until fall 2023.

The plan was laid out at Monday evening's regular council meeting, during a presentation by Sean Lee, the city's assistant director of engineering and operations.

"The first piece of the work that we're going to be doing is the installation of the ornamental metal railings or metal fencing," Lee said.

"That's going to be starting actually as soon as next week, and then we'll be moving forward with work more on the perimeter, on the inside and the interior, and advancing … some of the key components of the project over 2022 and into 2023."

The update was the latest to be given on the project, which stoked controversy in 2018, when city residents found out that the planned redesign of the park would require removing 19 of 23 mature trees on the grounds.

According to the city, the trees needed to go to make way for the renovations, which include a new artificially cooled skating track, a children's play area and a performance stage.

Pushback from the public led to the city altering its plans in order to save eight of the 19 destined for the chipper.

City of Fredericton
City of Fredericton

Some heritage advocates also opposed the city's removal of the stone wall and wrought-iron fencing that lined the southern and eastern perimeter of the park.

Previous renovation work has seen it replaced with new concrete and brick walls, and on Monday, Lee said the old wrought-iron fencing was digitally scanned to create the new fencing set to be installed this month.

Other work beginning this spring and summer includes construction of the stage and skating track, as well as landscaping, which will see staff plant at least 19 new trees and about 350 shrubs and perennials, primarily along the south and east perimeters, he said.

"So our goal is to start a lot of the [construction] components in 2022," Lee said. "They'll go through the winter of 2023 and we're looking to have a major opening in the fall of 2023."

Aidan Cox/CBC
Aidan Cox/CBC

Plans for the southwestern corner of the park remain to be seen, as the city is still collaborating with the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick on how that section could be used to honour the area's significance to the Wolastoqiyik.

An archeological assessment done in 2020 found Wolastoqey artifacts at the site dating as far back as 3,000 years, when the southern bank of the St. John River — also known as the Wolastoq River — extended to that corner of the park.

Disapproval of renovation lingers

Even though nearly three years have passed since the initial uproar, discontent over the renovation work was still heard on Monday night, with Coun. Margo Sheppard saying she felt Officers' Square hasn't been afforded the care it deserves as a historic site.

"We need to be very, very careful and work over time to adhere to the standards and guidelines for the treatment of national historic sites, and I fear that in this case that was not done," said Sheppard, adding she received 40 emails on Monday from residents concerned about the project.

"And I would like to think that the city can do better going forward."

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mayor Kate Rogers said she agreed with Sheppard, and in hindsight the city could have done a better job engaging the public about the plans.

At the same time, she said, many historic elements of Officers' Square had been removed before the city took possession of it from the province, adding that the renovation project is a chance to repurpose the park.

"Hindsight's 20-20, and I do I wish that we had done a little bit more [public engagement], but I will say that I feel that the plan that we've come up with has been responsive to many, many voices," Rogers said.

"I feel we've taken a lot, a lot into account and and I am excited … for the end result and I'm excited to get back into that space."

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