Tuesday, November 15, 2011

(as published in the Daily Gleaner, Novemeber 15/11)

The city owns it, but now it's got to figure out what to do with it.

To that end, city councillors agreed Monday night to terms of reference for a public proposal call on how to rehabilitate historic York House in the downtown core.

The property poses challenges: it contains asbestos, PCBs and lead.

The city has estimated it could cost as much as $4 million to refurbish the building, said Coun. Stephen Chase, chairman of the city's York House working group.

That's too pricey for converting the structure into additional municipal offices, he said, so the city will ask the public for help.

"It's an open call to the public, which, of course, includes the development community and other people interested in the potential uses of that structure to come forward with viable proposals that can work between the two parameters I outlined," Chase said.

"We want to preserve the structure and restore it to its architectural splendor as a historic building in Fredericton, and the other parameter being that it be at zero cost to the taxpayers of Fredericton. Between those two parameters, we'll entertain proposals."

Chase isn't opposed to partnerships being formed to execute a viable redesign and reuse for the city-owned property.

The $3 million-$4 million rehabilitation estimate would include removal of asbestos, PCBs and lead, along with the estimated cost of bringing the building up to building codes.

The city acquired York House in late 2007 as part of a deal it worked out with Brunswick Street Baptist Church.

The church wanted to expand but couldn't pay the cost of renovating York House, so it was going to demolish the building for its new addition.

Through land purchases and trades, the city found land for the church to build its addition and got York House in return.

Part of the committee's plan is to develop a feedback mechanism to seek input from the community.

The first phase of the input will be done online, and it's hoped the web page for feedback will be ready early next week.

Recommendations on how to rehabilitate the structure will have to come back to city council for approval.

Located at 193 York St., York House was constructed in 1893. It was designed by James Dumaresq, architect of the New Brunswick legislative building, as well as St. Paul's United Church and the Charlotte Street School.

The building was originally constructed to house the Fredericton High School and an elementary school. Through the years, York House has also been used for Teachers' College classrooms, the city's public library, a student employment centre and a youth hostel.

The Brunswick Street Baptist Church purchased the property in 1965. The building was used for various church purposes and was renamed York House.

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