New owner needed for his­toric court­house

Govern­ment ex­pects to have 186-year-old prop­erty on the mar­ket

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY ANDREW ROBIN­SON TC ME­DIA edi­tor@cb­n­com­pass.ca

The fu­ture of the Har­bour Grace’s his­toric court­house be­came a bit murky when the justice depart­ment an­nounced last year it was mov­ing Har­bour Grace Pro­vin­cial Court staff into an­other build­ing.

With court ser­vices set to move out of the com­mu­nity for good by the end of July, it’s just about set­tled there’ll never be an­other judge to hear a case in­side the con­fines of the 186-year-old prop­erty, which was the old­est pub­lic build­ing in use provincewide prior to clo­sure.

Now that build­ing is un­der eval­u­a­tion along­side a slew of pub­licly owned prop­er­ties classified as sur­plus. Trans­porta­tion and Works Min­is­ter Al Hawkins told The Com­pass it’s highly likely the old court­house will be on the mar­ket at some point.

“Part of my man­date, I’m do­ing a real es­tate op­ti­miza­tion plan, which in­cludes look­ing at any ex­cess prop­er­ties that we do have,” said the min­is­ter, not­ing the plan will also look at leased spa­ces. “There will be ar­eas that I will look at with re­gards to dis­posal and any as­sets that we have — how we want to divest of those as­sets — and that build­ing would cer­tainly fall un­der the pur­vey of look­ing at that.”

While Har­bour Grace has a few stone build­ings of note, ar­chi­tec­turally, the court­house is un­like any other in the com­mu­nity.

But be­fore any­one con­sid­ers be­com­ing re­spon­si­ble for the build­ing, they’ll need to be fully aware of how much restora­tion work is re­quired.

Ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent re­port pre­pared for govern­ment last sum­mer, walls are at risk of col­laps­ing in­ward un­less a per­ma­nent fix is made. The re­port from St. John’s en­gi­neer­ing firm Mor­ri­son Her­sh­field notes a pre­vi­ous con­sul­tant iden­ti­fied an ur­gent need for re­pairs to the east and south walls in 2011.

Tem­po­rary fixes

Tem­po­rary shor­ing work to sup­port the struc­ture was com­pleted in the fall of 2014 at a cost of ap­prox­i­mately $150,000 to keep the court­house open through the win­ter. In a pre­vi­ous re­port, Mor­ri­son Her­sh­field said haz­ards ad­dressed in the past had ac­cel­er­ated.

In an on site as­sess­ment car­ried out shortly be­fore the July 2015 re­port was pre­pared for govern­ment, Mor­ri­son Her­sh­field found ev­i­dence of de­te­ri­o­ra­tion at the south­east cor­ner of the build­ing that was “more ad­vanced than what was pre­vi­ously noted.” They found mor­tar patches were of­ten loose and could be re­moved with lit­tle ef­fort.

“The poor con­di­tion and im­pend­ing in­sta­bil­ity of the ex­te­rior walls and the po­ten­tial for par­tial col­lapse has been iden­ti­fied over the last sev­eral years yet no per­ma­nent fix has been im­ple­mented,” notes the re­port.

The re­port also found there was noth­ing to pre­vent wa­ter from get­ting into the wall cav­ity in many ar­eas, in­creas­ing the risk of mor­tar joint washout and fur­ther de­te­ri­o­ra­tion.

“Once this hap­pens, there is a risk that the wall could col­lapse in­wardly into the build­ing,” wrote Mor­ri­son Her­sh­field. “The tem­po­rary but­tress­ing that was put in place will not pre­vent the wall from an in­ward col­lapse. An­other win­ter sea­son of wa­ter freez­ing and thaw­ing could po­ten­tially weaken the walls to a point where a fail­ure may oc­cur. It is pos­si­ble a fail­ure may oc­cur with lit­tle to no warn­ing.”

In an in­ter­view with The Com­pass ear­lier this year, Justice Min­is­ter Andrew Par­sons re­ferred to a “multi-mil­lion dol­lar fix” as “not fea­si­ble” for pro­vid­ing court­house ser­vices.

While govern­ment has not ob­tained a firm fig­ure on the es­ti­mated cost of restora­tion, Hawkins said an in­ter­nal re­view in­volv­ing depart­ment en­gi­neers of­fered a pre­lim­i­nary es­ti­mate that “would be cer­tainly north of mil­lions.”

Hawkins ac­knowl­edges there are struc­tural is­sues to con­tend with at the court­house, sug­gest­ing it would be an “as is, where is” sit­u­a­tion with re­spect to a sale. This phrase takes into ac­count that the buyer is tak­ing on the prop­erty with all its faults ac­knowl­edged.

“We’re cer­tainly aware of the his­tor­i­cal value and the im­por­tance of that, be­cause it is a struc­ture that’s been there for quite some time, and it’s a lot of his­tory that would cer­tainly be in that build­ing,” said Hawkins.

“But at this point in time for us as a govern­ment, it’s prob­a­bly not some­thing that we would look at as an op­por­tu­nity for us for our needs. But ob­vi­ously there may be peo­ple in the mar­ket (where) that build­ing will be of in­ter­est to them.”

PHO­TOS BY ANDREW ROBIN­SON/TC ME­DIA

The his­toric Har­bour Grace court­house was built in 1830.

A view of the main court­room in Har­bour Grace, now filled with old fil­ing cabi­nets in­stead of court­house staff.

This door leads to the for­mer cells for prison­ers kept at the court­house.

Some work has been com­pleted in re­cent years to aid the struc­tural in­tegrity of the court­house, but a pre­lim­i­nary es­ti­mate sug­gests it will take mil­lions to han­dle a much­needed full restora­tion.

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