Wellesley Community Centre & St. James Town Library
Client : City of Toronto
Area : Phase 1: 25,300 Phase 2: 54,000 sf
Program : Phase 1: Gymnasium, Fitness Studios, Weight Training Studio, Aerobics Studio, Changerooms, Branch Library, Child Care Centre, Administrative and Support Spaces, Outdoor Program (Community Courtyards) Phase 2: Aquatic Centre (5-Lane 25m Lap Pool, Leisure Pool, Steam Room), Multi-Purpose Community Rooms
Completion : April 2005
Associated Architects : ZAS Architects (Phase 1)
A community partnership between the Toronto Public Library and the City of Toronto’s Community and Neighbourhood Services Department, the Centre is home to a diverse array of amenities, occupying the southern two-thirds of an urban block in central Toronto. Running north–south along Sherbourne Street, a major artery in the city’s east end, the Centre marks the western boundary of the critically underserved neighbourhood of St. James Town—an extraordinarily high-turnover district of low- to moderate-income families, with Canada’s highest per-capita density, and one of the most ethnically diverse neighbourhoods on earth. In this position, the Centre serves as a vital means to connect St. James Town and its inhabitants to the city.
Inside the 25,300-square-foot structure are a gymnasium, fitness, aerobics, and weight-training studios, change rooms, a library branch, a childcare centre, and admin and support spaces, as well as a controlled-access corridor leading to the change rooms. This corridor will also function as an access point to the Phase 2 structure currently under construction on the northeast corner of the property: a 54,000-square-foot extension containing a five-lane 25-metre lap pool, leisure pool, and steam room, as well as multipurpose community rooms.
The Centre is intentionally narrow to allow access from both sides, making the public programs visible and accessible to both the “city” side to the west and the neighbourhood of St. James Town to the east. The building’s dual function is immediately apparent thanks to its distinct volumes separated by a clear bisecting lobby, with provides views into both streets and the Centre’s major rooms for heightened security from a single point of control.
Community Centre and Library both open directly onto Sherbourne Street, but are differentiated by their contrasting dimensions and cladding; to the south, the Library, clad in pale concrete panels, is a fully-glazed two-storey volume, with the daycare and its open playground on the upper level, set into a secure sun-shaded terrace. To the north, the Community Centre’s three-storey volume is glazed at grade—providing views to the gym area within—and clad in dark brick above.
Despite its extremely restricted budget and the ambition of its program, the Centre has been lauded as a success story for the St. James Town neighbourhood, both as a highly functional hybrid building and as an example of “beauty on a budget.”