Historic Moncton cathedral renovations move ahead but money a challenge

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Historic Moncton cathedral renovations move ahead but money a challenge

Saving iconic historic buildings is not an easy task, but the non-profit group working to save Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption Cathedral in Moncton is closing in on the fundraising goal it set to keep the wrecking ball away.

As the congregation waned and maintenance bills grew, the Acadian monument on St. George Street was threatened with closure.

In 2014, the Moncton Archdiocese announced an agreement with several Acadian groups, who would lease newly renovated office space at the church, along with a campaign to raise $7 million for repairs.

Alexis Couture, vice-president of Station Acadie, which is overseeing the renovations at the cathedral, told Information Morning Moncton the work to renovate the ground floor is behind schedule but should be complete by the end of the year.

"We're in construction and we've now been in construction since last spring," Couture said.

Nearly $6.2 million of the $7 million goal has been raised.

"We're getting there ... and those funds will be used for structural repairs — the roof, waterproofing the foundation, bringing some elements of the Cathedral up to code because it's a 70-year-old building that hasn't really been updated substantially since its opening."

Government response tepid

Meanwhile, the ground floor of the cathedral has been demolished to make room for the new community centre, which will be home to several non-profit groups.

Couture said finding money for that part of the project has been much more difficult than expected.

"The archdiocese has been good in financing it so far, but we've made numerous requests of public authorities — provincial and federal governments — and they're not interested so far in financing this, so that's been a hurdle."

Couture said he sees the work at the cathedral as the kind of project governments need to support, especially given its importance as a heritage building and as a monument for Acadians.

"In the long term, what we intend is that the income from our end will ... be sufficient to sustain the cathedral in the long term so there's no need to go back to government when this is set up," he said.

"There's a new purpose to the building so declining church attendance is not a factor as much anymore because you have all these people working here day in day out."

Advice about old Moncton High

Couture has been following the proposals to redevelop the old Moncton High School building, another heritage property that many in the city want to see saved.

He believes the suggestion by MH Renaissance Inc. to relocate the public library to the space, to serve as an anchor for a cultural centre, is "way too controversial."

"There's no point in being that controversial. You want people to be together and you want people to understand the importance of the building and why it must be saved and it's not by shifting government offices, it's not by shifting facilities that are fine, in my opinion, where they are."

Couture agrees that the old Moncton High School needs to be saved, as the cathedral did, but isn't sure anyone has found the right use for the building.

He also believes the provincial government needs to show more leadership.

"On the provincial level, especially, there's no strategy for heritage buildings, there's no strategy for these kind of projects and they've been very timid in their support," Couture said.

He said the province did give his group $40,000 several years ago to complete a study but hasn't been interested in helping beyond that.

"They said, 'We'll be there,' and then once we came back knocking, there was no response, so we're still working on it. We're still working on the federal government but this is the kind of project they should be looking forward to."