“For a swift return” – campaign to rebuild chimney a success

by Sandy Garland, based on notes from the campaign blog

The chimney swifts are back, and they’re moving right in to their new roosting site in Shawville, Quebec!

In summer 2013, the West Quebec School Board hired contractors to shorten and cap a now-unused tall chimney on McDowell school in Shawville. What they didn’t know was that chimney swifts had been roosting in that chimney for many years.

Looking down the old chimney at a swift, perched precariously in its nest, which is attached to the rough brick inner wall. Photo by Bruce Di Labio (2008)

Looking down the old chimney at a swift, perched precariously in its nest, which is attached to the rough brick inner wall. Photo by Bruce Di Labio (2008)

Claire Charron and Deborah Powell, both members of the Chimney Swift Stewardship Group, took action. They quickly spread the word, using social media to tell us about the plight of swifts and explain the current problem. They also launched an online campaign to raise $15,000 to build a new chimney next to the school.

After studying many similar projects across North America, Claire and Deborah decided to base their construction on a highly successful roost replacement project at Fairview school in Indiana.

A month into the campaign, the group got some bad news. Because the school is in an earthquake zone, building a high stand-alone structure would be much more complicated than first expected – and much more costly. But, how about simply uncapping the existing (now unused) chimney, and rebuilding it to a height the swifts would use? Great idea, but great price tag – more than double the original budget.

But the good news was that, by mid-April, the group had met their fundraising goal! Word about the project had spread rapidly. Special fundraising events had been held. And donations had poured in from people all across Canada and the United States (including one from the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club).

Back to the drawing board. Graham Murfitt, an architect who became engaged in the project, drew up plans for a “hybrid” structure: a chimney made of wood and brick, attached to the school, and positioned next to the old chimney. Graham’s sketch included a list of the advantages:

The final plan for the artificial chimney is a combination wood/brick structure. Two new wooden walls enclose a corner next to the old chimney giving the swifts two brick walls to build on.

The final plan for the artificial chimney is a combination wood/brick structure. Two new wooden walls enclose a corner next to the old chimney giving the swifts two brick walls to build on.

• Affordable
• Not subject to seismic zone building codes
• Easy for the swifts to find
• Simple and safe drainage system
• Environmental stewardship – a plus for the school
• Tourist attraction – a plus for the community
• A first in Canada

Getting the project approved required another urgent campaign to make sure school board members understood the criteria for the structure.

But Claire and Deborah persisted and, at the end of April reported, “In an almost unheard of unanimous decision, the West Quebec School Board voted in favour of allowing the hybrid roost to be built on the side of the school – the location we had requested.”

Suddenly momentum began to build and on May 10, the project blog began with the exciting news, “Monday. It’s going up Monday [May 12, 2014].”

Work went quickly and within a few days, the chimney was complete. On May 14, the best news of all: “tonight, I saw the swifts go in,” reported Deborah. “We did it! All of us!”

Swifts entering the newly built Shawville chimney at dusk.

Swifts entering the newly built Shawville chimney at dusk.

Addendum
Better and better news: Deb sent me this photo of swifts entering the new chimney and the latest news, “Tonight [May 16], there was a lot of going in and out of the new roost but 20-25 birds stayed. Another 20 or so used a brick chimney close by and another 10 went to an as yet undetermined location. Come out to Swiftville (Shawville’s new name 😉 and share the fun of swiftwatching!”

Advertisements