News

Former Esquimalt municipal hall coming down despite protests

Despite a last-ditch effort by some Esquimalt residents to spare the township’s former municipal hall from demolition, it will be torn down by the end of August.

"It's a sad day for arts and heritage in Esquimalt," said Esquimalt resident and artist Colin MacLock. "(Mayor and council are) stewards of our heritage buildings. This is like shooting themselves in the foot."

The hall has long been on the chopping block to pave the way for development of the village core, but before council decided Monday night to award a deconstruction contract, MacLock and Victoria College of Art president Peter Such said the college could host arts classes in the vacant building.

Council was divided over whether to demolish the buildings this summer or delay work until 2012 until Coun. Lynda Hundleby changed her mind about postponing the project.

“It’s probably a little late, but it sounds wonderful,” Hundleby said of community interest  in using the building as part of the arts college.

Council voted 4-2 to award the deconstruction contract to Saanich-based H.L. Demolition and Waste Management, with opposition from Councillors Bruce McIldoon and Alison Gaul.

“You knock down the community’s last heritage building, then now (the current municipal hall) becomes the heritage building,” said McIldoon.

Despite Such’s assertion that restoration of the 1929 hall would be minimal, a 1998 report to the township estimated that by 2005 hall upgrades and repair would cost $800,000.

"I believe that building is long past its time," said Coun. Meagan Brame, noting to the expense required to upgrade accessibility features in the building, which also requires electrical and seismic upgrades and is ridden with mould, dust and asbestos.

As part of the demolition package, the company will destroy five municipal buildings, including homes on Lampson and Fraser streets, the old hall and former public works and storage buildings for about $347,000, plus tax. Grass will be planted in their place.

Demolition equipment is scheduled to arrive at the sites by early next week, and work will begin on the homes first, said Jeff Miller, Esquimalt's director of engineering and public works, adding that the buildings are expected to be torn down by Aug. 31.

Once the buildings come down, contaminated land at the former public works site must undergo an environmental study. The assessment and cleanup plan have been budgeted to cost the township $75,000, and if grant money can be secured from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, another $50,000.

“It could be a benign site, or maybe surprise, surprise, there could be something worse," Miller said.

emccracken@vicnews.com

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