Liverpool's 'architectural gem' untouched 1 year after province promises repairs

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$1M or more in provincial funding announced for Perkins House Museum renos

Linda Rafuse casually refers to Perkins House Museum in Liverpool as "she" and "her" — a habit she says is in fondness for the 250-year-old building that's gone untouched since it was indefinitely shuttered by the province two years ago.

"Perkins House is an architectural gem," said Rafuse, director of the Queens County Museum and Perkins House. 

"You look at her and it's just like she's been neglected." 

The upcoming tourism season marks 60 years since the former home of merchant and famed diarist Simeon Perkins opened as a museum. Perkins moved into the home April 18, 1767.

The province closed it two years ago, saying the site was structurally unsafe. Last March, officials said a timeline for repairs was being developed, but Rafuse said she's heard little from them since. 

"Things just aren't happening."

Giving the 'same old tired answer'

The museum's board of directors wrote a letter to Premier Stephen McNeil asking for answers last week, Rafuse said. 

"We have visitors coming to us. And you know the first question is always, 'When is Perkins House going to be reopened?'" she said. 

"And we're the ones responding with that same old tired answer: 'We don't know.'" 

A Halifax-based engineering firm published a report that led to the Perkins House closure, which stated exterior walls could collapse in winter weather. Support jacks were then installed as a temporary fix. Repairs were estimated between $500,000 and $700,000.

In an email, provincial spokesperson Lisa Jarrett said the province continues to develop a plan to complete the necessary work to Perkins House and reopen it. 

Culture and Heritage Minister Tony Ince said Wednesday it will be weeks or months before a timeline for repairs will be shared publicly. 

Findings to the contrary

Retired architect Allen Penney, whose experience spans 60 years and includes authoring a report on Perkins House, last visited the site in October 2015. He said the slated repairs are overkill.

"It's withstood hurricanes and various other things," Penney said. "The house has been there for 250 years and it's still structurally safe."

He said the biggest threat to the building is wet ground worsened by changes to the property and by rainwater run-off from the Queens County Museum nearby. 

"What it actually needs is a separation between wet ground and dry wood to stop the wood from rotting. That's the only [major] change that needs to take place," he said.

Penney estimated the cost to conserve the building for years to come at about $60,000. 

Waiting for the game plan

Rafuse said the support jacks are "holding [Perkins House] too tight" and they'll do more harm than good if a game plan isn't reached soon. 

"I guess the frustration is right now, in the near future there could be an election call and we see a lot of money being given to the arts and culture community," Rafuse explained.

"We kind of think, 'Isn't there some sort of priority list?'"

From June to October, a Perkins House historical interpreter will continue to work out of the Queens County Museum.