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Christy Bertrand photo

Christy Bertrand photo

An inside shot of the old locomotive shops on the Cooper site.

Plenty of possibilities still for Cooper site

Jeff Heuchert editor@stratfordgazette.com

A recommendation to proceed with the demolition of the old locomotive shops on the Cooper site, save for any retained portions identified for commemoration, was  rejected by a group of presenters and all members of council Monday evening.

Instead, council unanimously supported a deferral motion from Coun. Kerry McManus, who said she preferred that a master plan for the site be completed ahead of demolition and commemoration. She noted she agreed with the night’s speakers that a more fully formed plan is needed before considering any next steps.

“We haven’t identified what our needs are, so it’s difficult to decide what direction to take,” she added.

Local architects Michael Wilson and Thor Dingman each made a case for using part of the existing building for a parking garage.

“The structure itself is very, very exciting,” Wilson said, suggesting for the site a “selective demolition,” retaining part of the building and mezzanine. It would be a tourism draw while supporting over 800 vehicles and freeing space on the site for a library, YMCA, and further university buildings, he added.

Dingman said a parking garage could be a “financially feasible project” if done right. His figures suggest if the city were to demolish 113,000 square feet of the structure, the remaining 33 per cent could be used to accommodate 150 parking spaces and generate $90,000 a year in revenue for the city.

“It retains the architectural significance (of the building) and it puts it to good use,” he said of his plan.

Dingman also asked councillors to defer a decision about the shops until an analysis of building retention options and possible revenue streams has been completed, and until the preservation of the structure has been demonstrated to be untenable.

Ted Hales of the Perth County branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario said the cost of redeveloping the site is a major hurdle, and that with no immediate need for the site, a wise course of action would be to investigate an interim use for the site, such as parking, while looking at longterm options.

In the end, though, the site requires more than a plaque, he said.

“A significant portion of the building should be retained in such a manner that the original uses of the building are obvious and illustrated,” he added, noting proceeding with demolition at this stage would be a decision the citizens of Stratford would regret.

“It would be a historic loss should the entire building and the site completely disappear.”

Local resident Lorne Bolton, meanwhile, shared three ideas that he said have “extremely good revenue flow potential,” including a solar installation on the roof of the building, indoor parking, and student dormitories/condominiums.

In his presentation to council, CAO Ron Shaw ran through a history of the consultants’ reports that have been completed to date. The Goldsmith Borgal & Company report from 2012 concluded the site has obvious heritage value but that adaptive re-use of the building and/or heritage restoration was not a viable option, and that demolition was the preferred option. Demolition was also recommended due to the deterioration of the structure in the Read Jones Christofferson Ltd. report that same year and in the Malone Given Parson report in 2013. The cost to tear down the building was an estimated $1.2 million in 2012.

Also coming into play with council’s decision if demolition is ultimately chosen is what sort of development would be allowed on the site given its proximity to railway lines. According to manager of development services, Jeff Leunissen, the site could accommodate industrial uses as well as parking, but could not support any residential uses. In his report, Shaw said safety barriers will likely be part of any future development as well.

Despite cost estimates exceeding $3 million, the Grand Trunk Heritage Site committee continues to advocate for the retention of the three most easterly bays to house either a Grand Trunk or Canadian National railway steam locomotive.

“We think there needs to be a significant commemoration of what was once the industrial heartbeat of this city,” committee member Dean Robinson told council.

The three bays would measure between 11,000 and 12,000 square feet, an area large enough to accommodate not only a locomotive but serve other community groups whose needs come to light in a master plan for the site, he added.

“We agree a master plan should be the first step,” Robinson said, “and we want our commemoration proposal to be a part of that master plan.”

Former Cooper site owner, Lawrence Ryan, continued to argue an adaptive re-use of the building was feasible. He claimed at least 30 bays could be saved with the money that’s being proposed for the project, including up to $1 million for commemoration. Additional fundraising would “ensure full preservation, providing the city with a valuable, usable, heritage asset,” he said.

In his written presentation, which he did not finish in the allotted five minutes, Ryan – who remains entangled in legal proceedings with the city over his compensation for the Cooper site – even stated he is prepared to consider donating up to 10 per cent of any money the city pays him towards the replacement costs of the shops provided it is used for preservation and restoration of the building.

Ryan also reiterated that he expects the city will deliver to him the shops so they can be relocated should a decision be made to demolish.

“Either leave it up or prepare to provide it to me,” he said.

According to Shaw, the cost to bring the building up to minimum occupancy standards in 2012 was $9.72 million. The costs associated with a particular use going into the building would be in addition to that amount.

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