Group hopes for city’s support on preserving old brick building

Ken Haberman and Rob Amsing said that they would like council to allow them to submit the building for heritage funding

Two Cranbrook residents with building and restoration experience told council that they have brought together a group keen on restoring the historic brick building behind city hall.

Ken Haberman and Rob Amsing said that they would like council to allow them to submit the building for heritage funding. They estimated that it would cost only $30,000 to get the garage to a usable and structurally sound state. The estimate was significantly lower than the sum that the city came up with, which was about $135,000.

The reasons the two gave for the lower costs was that for the purpose of a heritage building, there is no need for things like plumbing, electricity and insulation, but rather a need to get the building to a preservable state.

“We want to preserve that building, we think it is a historical building in Cranbrook,” Amsing said.

They would apply for funding from the Heritage Legacy Fund to cover the $30,000 and get the work done with volunteer labour. They have started a list of volunteers.

“We would like to see the building put back to good shape and then used again,” Haberman said.

Coun. Angus Davis couldn’t understand how the group estimated such a low number compared with the engineering report.

“If we say yes you go ahead, that leaves the onus right on the city if some mistake is made where the building is not structurally made significantly better than it should be,” Davis said.

Haberman argued that the report had a lot of things not necessary for preserving the building.

“They have $15,000 for insulation, $6,600 for plumbing and $10,000 for drywalling the ceiling and the interior work,” Haberman said. “A lot of these things really don’t apply to keeping that building in good repair. A lot of these things are an upgrade to take it to the next level.”

He said that the engineering report didn’t touch on anything structural.

Amsing said there is building experience within the group, noting that he himself has renovated four or five 100-year-old homes within Cranbrook and in Alberta.

“If an engineer went in there and said, ‘Look, it needs supports, all the way inside needs to be cross braced,’ that’s a different story,” he said. “But the engineer didn’t say that. The engineer is saying we’re going to take out the ceiling and put in $15,000 worth of insulation into a storage building, $10,000 into electrical. I don’t see the point of putting that much effort into a garage that we’re trying to just preserve.”

He said they would focus on replacing the windows, the garage doors and the roof.

Coun. Bob Whetham said the two figures need to be rectified, saying he would need to see what the differences were before making decisions. Whetham also had concerns about the locations of the building, between city hall (a heritage building), the empty fire hall and the police station, which will likely be transitioned to another use in the future.

“My question is, if this building is preserved, more for the aesthetics of its historic appearance rather than as a functional part of what the city uses this land for,” Whetham said, adding that he didn’t want to see effort go into preserving a building then council deciding later that it is the wrong place for the building, if for instance city hall were to be expanded.

Coun. Diana J. Scott asked whether they would be interested in seeing the building repurposed as something else, such as new washrooms downtown.

“We’re looking at it from a point of view that this is one of two buildings left in Cranbrook with that architectural design, which is very unique to this area,” Amsing said. “Why would we want to tear it down and repurpose the bricks when we’ve got it there? We can preserve it and keep it going for many more years.”

Scott also worried about the building getting a heritage designation, because then it may not be able to be moved.

The application deadline for the heritage funding is not for another year, and so council will have some decisions to make in terms of what it hopes to accomplish in the area behind city hall and whether a historic brick garage fits into that vision.