Designer Don Ferguson outlines the plans for the No. 5 Mine Fan House Park. Photo by Mike Chouinard

Designer pitches park plans for old mine fan house in Cumberland

Council chooses to mix some elements from different design options

The Village of Cumberland is weighing options for a proposed park at the old mine site as part of the Coal Valley Estates project.

The developer has funded a design project for the “Fan House Park,” to be built at the site of the old No. 5 Mine fan house, though the Village will have to draft an agreement on costs, designs and other factors.

At the last council meeting in November, Don Ferguson of theroyalwe design studio presented his report, along with three concepts for the park.

According to senior planner Karin Albert, this a longstanding project for the community. Initially, there was hope to retain the fan house structure at the park site, but an engineering study determined this would be too expensive, so the plan changed to commemorating the site in some other way. She also said there is a covenant at the site, but this can be changed later as part of a larger proposal to amend the development agreement.

RELATED STORY: Cumberland wants more heritage committee members

At the start of his presentation, Ferguson provided some history for the mine, which dates back to the late 1800s. The fan house in question pulled air out of the No. 5 Mine’s shaft. It was one of several fan houses on site, with thick walls 10 feet high that were concrete and included some wood.

Ferguson said the site provides great views to the south, but it is also narrow.

“It’s a very challenging site, but it also has a lot of opportunity,” he said.

For a memorial, Ferguson said the aim is to move beyond the usual rock cairn with a brass plaque, and aim for whimsy and engagement.

“The best way I found was to sort of understand how the site worked,” he said.

A major challenge for this project was determining what the No. 5 fan house looked like.

“We know what some of them looked like,” he said. “We know there’s not a lot of these buildings left.”

The fifth fan house is a bit of a mystery, though Ferguson came up with a model of what it probably looked like.

“With that, knowing what we want to do and how the site works, I wanted to … address a few ideas of how the park itself could be designed,” he told council.

Working around the words “reclaimed,” “reused” and “repurposed, Ferguson proposed a couple of ideas for the site, building the park around the past but also meeting the needs of a growing community. As far as foliage for the park, it would include wildflowers, native shrubs and deciduous trees.

As the Cumberland staff report highlights, the first concept draws attention to the shafts and tunnels below, with seating around a sunken area. It includes trees on site to suggest nature reclaiming the site. The second option includes a shell to visualize the fan itself. It approximates the size of the hood that housed the fan. These first two concepts went before the Village’s heritage committee at a meeting in July.

However, Ferguson has also followed up with the third concept, which includes some revisions. For example, the number of beams in the shell has been reduced from five down to three to cut costs. As well, a concrete base for seating would be replaced by engineered wood fibre. This would change the more formal structure in the first two plans into a natural playground.

“It’s engaging and interactive. There’s even shadow play,” he told council.

Council wanted to know about changes and raised questions about building materials, play spaces, places for seating and remaining infrastructure from the mine. They opted to try to work in some elements of previous designs, passing a motion to use current cement slabs on the site as well as at providing concrete bench space as a base from the second design. This could be incorporated into the third design. As well, council passed a motion to develop an agreement letter with the landowner.

While there were still questions around details, such as how to use concrete from the site, the general sentiment was for the Village to keep options open at this point.

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Two views of the proposed third concept. Image, theroyalwe

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