Time is of the essence for heritage properties

·3 min read

Despite a closure for public access, all is not lost for the 150-year-old Springfield House and Escott Hall.

Following a committee of the whole meeting Monday evening, the Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands and the Friends of the Springfield House Complex both say they are comfortable with where the issue is currently regarding the two buildings in the township.

Last Thursday, the township released a long-awaited report that cited structural issues in its recommendation that council close public access to the two buildings located on County Road 2.

The report also recommended that council direct staff to initiate the process for the consideration of declaring the two buildings surplus, a move that would allow the township to place the buildings on the market.

However, township officials stressed they are a long way from placing the two buildings up for sale and it is not the goal of the township to sell the historical buildings.

"We recognize the significance of the properties," said Stephen Donachey, the township's chief administrative officer.

"This isn't going to be a consultation period that is very abbreviated… we want a fulsome discussion with the public."

Most on council said it is not their preference to have the buildings put up for sale, but that time is of the essence to get something done with them due to their condition.

Mayor Corinna Smith-Gatcke said the issue is at a critical period due to the condition of the buildings.

"The conditions of the buildings are what they are today because everybody has sort of pushed this around and pushed it to the side," she said.

Robert Burtch, chairman of the Friends of the Springfield House Complex committee, gave a presentation Monday before councillors discussed the matter.

He says he is happy with the outcome of the meeting and thinks that the current mood of council is in favour of at least one of the buildings being saved.

"We have to focus on what we can do now and if we've got the goodwill of the council with us, that's all we care about right now and we need to act on it," said Burtch.

During his presentation, Burtch suggested to council that a historical engineer assess the buildings to get an accurate dollar figure on potential restoration costs.

Smith-Gatcke said she is on board with having a more updated and historical assessment of the buildings.

Along with the option to begin consideration of the buildings being surplus, the other two options presented to the committee were to repair the two buildings or close them for demolition.

Nobody on the committee considered levelling the buildings, due in part to their historical nature.

Springfield House was built in 1871 and is one of the oldest still-intact buildings in the township. Following restoration in the 1980s, the house served as the township public library until 2016.

Both buildings have been given historical designations, which do limit potential outcomes and options for the township. Another limiting issue is the archives.

The Escott Hall serves as the home for the archives of the township. Due to the nature of belongings in the archives, the space they can be kept in is limited.

Further, the process for moving the archives would require experts and would not come cheap, said Burtch.

Marshall Healey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times