Historic church being torn down
Developer plans to demolish St. Paul’s in stages, starting with steeple
St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church is being torn down, starting with the steeple.
Demolition began on Saturday with the removal of the top half of the metal-clad pinnacle.
“I have compassion, empathy and understanding for the mix of emotions about losing this building in our downtown,” stated the owner of the building, Kevin J. MacDonald of Murray Holdings Inc. (a subsidiary of Clear Global Capital, a private investment company).
In a series of instant messages, MacDonald, who is from Peterborough, stated the whole structure — all additions included — will be torn down in phases, starting with the steeple and spires (which he says are crumbling).
“After that we will be dismantling with care the interior features,” MacDonald stated. “This will be a prolonged and careful process.”
Tenants of the rotunda have until February to vacate, MacDonald writes in an open letter, posted to the church exterior — although the Brock Mission in the hall can stay at least through the winter if not longer.
In the interview, MacDonald stated that he has “not formalized” his plans for the property, once the church is razed; he stated he intends to bring forward an application to the city in a few months.
The church has no heritage designation to prevent demolition.
One heritage advocate wrote on Sunday she was “devastated” to learn the church was being torn down.
Ann Farquharson, a local lawyer, wrote in an email to The Examiner Sunday that if the city, province and federal governments act fast they may be able to save “this beautiful downtown landmark”. “It’s not too late,” she wrote. Meanwhile, the Brock Mission is expected to remain in the building — at least for awhile. The city’s homeless men have been staying in the hall at St. Paul’s — the
northeast addition, built in 1959 —since the ramshackle mission building down the street was torn down in 2017 to make room for a new facility.
Construction on the new Brock Mission is expected to begin this spring; the new building isn’t expected to be ready until 2020.
“We want to do all we can to make sure Brock Mission can continuously operate until their new home is complete,” MacDonald stated in his interview.
Meanwhile, MacDonald does explain the decision to tear down the church, in his letter to the community.
MacDonald writes that when his firm purchased the property in August, he was aware of the structural issues that made the sanctuary unsafe for worship.
He also writes that he thought perhaps there was a way to still save the building, a possibility that had been “overlooked.”
“Unfortunately, it was not to be,” he writes. “After our engineer reviewed the current state of the property it became clear that the sanctuary and steeple had become increasingly unsafe and posed an unacceptable risk to public safety.”
MacDonald writes that as he became aware of the “seriousness” of the situation, he was concerned about how the building might hold up this winter in the wind and snow.
He waited for ideal weather, he writes — light winds and sun — to begin demolition.
St. Paul’s church was built in 1859. The rotunda was added in 1885.
The church guildroom is where the congregation has been meeting; it is in the rotunda, which is accessed through the Water St. entrance.
On Sunday, a handwritten note was posted to the door on Water St. advising worshippers that the morning service was being held at The Mount on Monaghan Rd.
The Examiner reported in October that the congregation was searching for a new place to worship on a permanent basis. Churchgoers haven’t worshipped in the sanctuary at St. Paul’s for years: It’s been deemed unsafe due to loose plaster and rotting support beams.
The Examiner reported in 2014 that church officials believed it would cost at least $2.4 million to repair the church on top of the $100,000 in annual maintenance just to keep the doors open.
The demolition permit — issued Friday by the city — was posted to the exterior of the church this weekend.
It states that permission has been granted to tear down “a portion” of the church, it also states that the scope of the permit will be “amended” as demolition proceeds.
It also states that the building will need to be stabilized as it is dismantled, and that the developer will need to seek city permission to close the sidewalks or streets during demolition.
On Sunday the Brock Mission was still open and accessible, and one homeless man came outside to take photos of the steeple under demolition.
The man — who did not want to be identified — called the demolition “a travesty”. He said he’s dismayed that places of worship can so easily be reduced to rubbish.
When the church went up for sale last year, city staff considered buying it, but eventually passed on the opportunity — even though the Peterborough Police station next door is getting cramped for space.
Allan Seabrooke, then the CAO of the city, said the costs would quickly have added up: the asking price was $900,000, plus the city would have to foot the bill either for demolition or a pricey restoration.
The steeple at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church at Murray and Water St. was under demolition Sunday morning. A letter posted to the exterior of the church from the owner of the building, Kevin J. MacDonald of Murray Holdings Inc., states that the church is being “dismantled” a piece at a time under “a phased approach to demolition.”