Windemere Road elevation (Windsorite News)
03 . 09 . 2015

Heritage Committee: don’t knock down St. Barnabas Church

AUTHOR Craig Pearson

The modernist St. Barnabas Church may end up avoiding the wrecking ball.

The city’s heritage committee voted Monday to deny the Anglican Diocese’s application to demolish the main church, at 2115 Chilver Road, which was built in 1955. Instead, the committee wants the city to designate the structure a heritage building — which would prevent demolition in the future.

The committee, however, gave approval to demolish the other two buildings on the property, a smaller 1939 church, and a neighbouring residence.

The final decision, however, on whether to allow demolition of the mid-century modern edifice — which has sat empty for a number of years along Tecumseh Road East — rests with city council. No date has been set, though council typically addresses demolition requests about a month after the heritage committee makes its recommendation.

“Alternative uses for the building should be explored, in addition to a worship space or assembly hall,” says an administration report that recommends not allowing demolition in favour of creating housing, office or retail space. “The conversion of the existing space to the proposed retail space could be done to provide a unique and attractive business from both the exterior and the interior.”

According to the administration report, the largely white building was built with reinforced concrete in a contemporary style. The tall rectangular shape features narrow windows filled with colourful stained glass. A slender square steeple adorns the western end of the building.

Coun. Irek Kusmierczyk said that if the church’s main goal is to divest itself of the property, so as to cut costs, then it should at least consider selling the building for $1 — as did the Roman Catholic Diocese of London for Holy Rosary Church, among other examples.

“I am not convinced that they have done all that’s possible to divest themselves of this property,” Kusmierczyk said. “I will support the recommendation (not to allow demolition). I believe it’s the right thing to do for the city to protect the heritage designation of this building.”

Coun. Hilary Payne was the only member of the seven-person heritage committee to side with the church.

“If the diocese has to keep this building and maintain it forever, it’s almost like expropriation without compensation,” said Payne, who dismissed suggestions that other uses can easily be found. “The people who are saying that are very sincere in their beliefs about heritage and preservation. But unlike the diocese, none of these people have any financial responsibility whatsoever.”

Steve Gibson, a lawyer for the Anglican Church of Canada Diocese of Huron, said the church has tried to sell the property for three or four years without any luck.

At first, the church asked in the high $400,000 range, but has since reduced its asking price to $299,000. Recently two offers came in, he said, both contingent on demolishing the buildings.

Besides high upkeep costs, he said, the site lacks adequate parking and needs major heating upgrades.

“The structure became an overburden to the congregation,” said Gibson, who declined comment after the church demolition request was denied. “The congregation couldn’t support the operations.”

Gibson said the congregation, which has since merged with another one, made the decision to sell the church.

Three citizens all spoke Monday in favour of preserving the church. But the third person provided the most drama, when he identified himself as a real estate agent with a client who made an offer earlier in the day, hoping to develop the church without tearing it down.

Gibson said he had not heard of any such offer and did not know what conditions might be attached to it, and therefore still hoped demolition would proceed.

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