Residents of 650 Parliament could return in November to building gutted by fire last August

The reconstruction process on a St. James Town highrise destroyed by fire last summer is about two-thirds complete and residents may be able to return in November, a spokesperson for building management said Wednesday.

The estimated move-in date for the nearly 1,500 people displaced by the fire at 650 Parliament St. has been pushed back multiple times this year.

But spokesperson Danny Roth said at a morning news conference that about 65 per cent of the work inside the building is finished, and much of the construction that remains is cosmetic.

“I think what’s important to realize … is that we are essentially rebuilding a 22-storey tower from the inside out,” Roth told reporters.

The property management company, Wellesley Parliament Square, has spent between $50 million and $60 million on reconstruction so far, he added.

On Aug. 21, 2018, a six-alarm fire tore through the building, badly damaging the building’s electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems.

“There is not a strong enough superlative to say just what the effect of the fire was in terms of damage to the building,” Roth said.

Officials have “some idea” about where the blaze began, but Roth said he would not comment publicly on the cause until the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal has completed its investigation.

Between 561 and 568 suites were occupied at the time of the fire. The building was evacuated safely, and there were no injuries during the process, Toronto Fire said at the time.

Wellesley Parliament Square has spent about $13 million to assist displaced residents who could not stay with friends or family find temporary housing, Roth said.

Resident Mark Slapinski said that he appreciates the financial assistance the company has provided in the last year, but said that it has failed to communicate effectively with tenants about progress on reconstruction.

“It’s been frustrating for sure,” he told CBC Toronto.

About 10 per cent of residents living in the building at the time of the fire have chosen to terminate, or have not renewed, their leases, he added.

The move-in process for those intending to return to the building will be staggered over a period of several days or weeks. To make that effort somewhat easier, residents will be able to begin transferring their belongings next week to a secure storage facility that has been established in the building’s basement.

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