University of Alberta's historic Ring Houses purchased for proposed arts hub

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The University of Alberts says its historic Ring Houses—plus two additional East Campus Village houses— will become the centrepieces of an arts and sculpture community development.  (Nathan Gross/CBC - image credit)
The University of Alberts says its historic Ring Houses—plus two additional East Campus Village houses— will become the centrepieces of an arts and sculpture community development. (Nathan Gross/CBC - image credit)

Four historic houses on the University of Alberta's North Campus will be dismantled and relocated to a new location somewhere in the Edmonton region.

The century-old Ring Houses have been purchased by Primavera Development Group, which aims to repurpose them as the "iconic centrepiece" for a new arts and sculpture community development project, the university announced Friday.

Two other houses located on the U of A East Campus Village are part of the same deal. The houses, at 110th Street and 90th Avenue, were built in 1914 and acquired by the U of A in 1987.

The proposed development would see the ring houses anchor a new facility aimed at fostering artistic talent, Primavera president Ken Cantor said Friday.

The community arts hub would include some mixed use development — such as a cafe or daycare — along with studio space and housing for artist residency programs.

"We've got a long history of talent here," Cantor said in an interview. "And we've always wanted a place for that to be nurtured and thrive."

Primavera will establish a non-profit corporation to operate the facility, Cantor said.

The search for a new home

Cantor said he would like to see the houses remain in the city — or one of its satellite communities — but an exact location has not yet been found.

"I know where my first choice, or choices would be," he said. "And we've had some early discussions with the city, although they've not come to fruition yet."

In February, the university announced plans to demolish the Ring Houses, which were built in the 1910s in a perimeter around the campus of the time. For decades, faculty members lived in the 10 original houses.

The four houses that remain were used most recently as office space before being decommissioned in 2020.

The university said the houses were costly to maintain and could not serve an academic function. A petition to save the buildings gathered more than 2,600 signatures, and the houses were put for sale instead.

The houses were put up for purchase throughout February for $1 each, and the university received 38 separate applications.

"We're really pleased that this will mean the preservation of the ring houses," U of A president Bill Flanagan said Friday.

"These are beautiful, handsome houses of significant historical interest.

"Primavera has a very interesting vision, I think, for a reimagined purpose for the Ring Houses, one that will give them a whole new community focus."

Primavera will begin deconstructing the houses, brick by brick, next spring.

Brick by brick

The company will be responsible for the cost of relocation. The structures will be stored until a location for the proposed development is found.

Cantor said relocating the buildings will be costly, delicate work. The houses are filled with brittle masonry and will need to be brought up to current building standards.

"We actually looked at cutting them in quarters to make them small enough and light enough," he said. "But even then, they're just way too big, way too heavy to pick up and drop on the back of the trailer and move."

After they are removed from their current location, the site will be turned into green space while the university considers any future development.

Castor said those keen to see the historic structures saved will support the project.

"There's a full recognition on our part that there's lots of people that would prefer to see them restored in situ where they were originally built. But that's not really Primavera's call, and that's not in the cards.

"What we think we're doing here is telling the second best story for these houses."

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