Regent Park mystery noise plagued residents for 5 years

Eric Morse —

The mysteriously irritating noise from Regent Park may be on the verge of exorcism. For the past five years, residents of Lower Cabbagetown (south of Spruce) have been troubled by an irritating low-frequency hum emanating from a source south of Gerrard St. and east of Sumach. At first of unknown origin, as of late 2012 and after persistent residents’ complaints, it was firmly ascribed (by HGC engineering consultants) to the high-speed operation of the cooling towers on the roof of the Regent Park Community Energy Centre (CEC) located at the TCHC property on 252 Sackville St.

The CEC is intended to provide heating and air conditioning for all of the Regent Park redevelopment. (This was felt to be a more energy-efficient design than separate installations for each building; interestingly it has as one precursor Soviet models of the 1960s for centrally-heated high-rise subdivisions.) The energy centre is in the basement of the building but according to the residents involved in seeking remediation, the noise seems to come from the top, which may explain why the noise level increases initially when heading away from the building before decreasing.

The issue has been spearheaded by Nasmith Ave. residents Keith Lawrance and Scott Morrow (a health and safety professional), both current board members of the Cabbagetown Residents’ Association. It has had some difficulty gaining traction, and indeed it took three years for an engineering consultant to be engaged, possibly because it has had a certain “UFO” quality to it (i.e., not everyone immediately believed the noise actually existed until consultants verified it). The Bulletin, having interviewed Lawrance and Morrow on a pleasant July evening on Nasmith Ave., can attest by empirical auditory evidence that it certainly does exist; a persistent and very pervasive low oscillating hum, quite distinct from the common 60-cycle hum of high-tension wires.

It varies in loudness according to how hot the weather is, and what side your window happens to be on, but the minimum measured noise level appears to be about 44dBA or one decibel below the legal maximum of 45dBA, but measurements taken by Lawrance and Morrow—with, as they note, “less sophisticated equipment”—show up to 65 dBA. Nasmith seems to be the epicentre but the noise has been reported on a radius as far as Ralston Ave. on the west, Aberdeen to the northwest, Winchester to the north and Carlton/Sumach to the northeast.

Lawrance and Morrow note that at least one resident of the street has given up, sold off and moved out. The issue currently rates #5 in the CRA’s top five neighbourhood issues list. A request for proposals (RFP) for remediation measures (the installation of noise baffles in the cooling tower) was to have been posted by TCHC earlier this spring. However TCHC advised the CRA and The Bulletin that owing to some delays in the process, it was not actually let until June 9, and closed June 30. advised the residents and The Bulletin that there had been a response to the RFP and that the contract was working its way through TCHC’s approvals process.