Heritage or hundreds of thousands?

City council committee wants Queen’s spend over $300,000 to restore 1920s chimney and windows on new arts centre

An artist’s rendering of Norwegian architectural firm Snohetta’s design for the proposed Isabel Bader Centre.
Image supplied by: Supplied
An artist’s rendering of Norwegian architectural firm Snohetta’s design for the proposed Isabel Bader Centre.

An 87-year-old chimney and wood-framed windows are hindering development of the already delayed $63 million Queen’s performing arts centre.

Plans for the new facility originated in 2007 after a $22 million donation from long-time Queen’s benefactors, Alfred and Isabel Bader. Queen’s staff responsible for the construction on the building say it would be nearing completion by now if not for a long approval process with Kingston’s city council.

Queen’s purchased the historic Stella Buck building three years ago with plans to renovate it into the performing arts centre, but designs for the renovation created by a prominent Norwegian architectural firm are being rebuked by Kingston’s heritage committee.

The current building on King St. at Ellerbeck St. housed Morton’s Brewery during the 1800s and was converted into a military hospital during World War I.

The Snohetta architectural firm’s current design requires a 1923 chimney and windows to be taken out in order to restore it to the brewery period.

City councillor Bill Glover sits on the heritage committee and the Stella Buck building is in his district. He said Queen’s approach to restoring the Stella Buck building to the brewery period isn’t the method advocated by heritage groups.

“Current best practices in heritage is not restoring to a certain period,” he said. “You have an historic site that has spanned a number of time periods … It’s the whole building. The building has a life.”

Glover said upgrading the chimney to withstand an earthquake will cost around $262,000 and over $100,000 to keep the windows.

“The $262,000 represents about 0.4% of the total budget of that project,” he said. “The cost of keeping the chimney really cannot be a factor unless you’re saying the project is in serious financial trouble … It’s peanuts.”

In addition to the $22 million dollar Bader donation, the provincial and federal governments have pledged $15 million each, Kingston has given $6 million and Queen’s raised $5 million internally.

$40 million of the total budget is devoted to construction costs for restoring the current building. The remainder of the budget will cover project costs including furniture and architectural fees.

Acting Director of Queen’s Physical Plant Services Rick Carpenter said his predicted construction expenditure is currently $2 million over budget.

The Heritage Committee met yesterday to revisit their recommendation advising Queen’s plans to include the chimney and windows.

The committee will announce at tonight’s city council meeting that most of recommendation will stand. New windows will be permitted on the third floor addition with the stipulation that the new installations be proportional to the existing windows on the first and second floor.

Queen’s will need a city-issued demolition permit to remove the chimney and Glover said it won’t be issued if demolition is in violation of a council decision. The estimated cost for Queen’s to adhere to all Heritage Committee recommendations, including the chimney, windows, stabilizing all walls and restoring stone and brick work, is $2.1 million.

“We don’t have much choice,” Carpenter said, adding that they have already accounted for spending on restoring the chimney and windows in the budget.

“The council tpically sides with the Heritage Committee.”

Carpenter said the cost of maintaining the chimney isn’t the main reason Queen’s is advocating the removal.

“It’s going to look odd,” he said. “It doesn’t really go along with our design. It’s going to be orphaned. It’s going to sit 20 feet away from the building.”

Carpenter said Queen’s has objected to restoring the existing windows because the wood frames will require constant painting and current window systems perform more efficiently.

Queen’s philosophy regarding the building’s restoration focuses on the period when it functioned as a brewery. A heritage structures report, completed by historian Craig Sims, allotted 23 pages to the discussion of the brewery period and three pages to all other periods in the Stella Buck building’s history.

“The majority of its life was a brewery,” Carpenter said.

Glover, on the other hand, didn’t think this was reason enough to tear down the chimney.

“The members of the heritage committee saw a certain irony here because there’s nothing from the brewery period except the actual building, so you don’t have to do anything,” he said, adding that the historic chimney on the Stella Buck building is one of only four still standing in Kingston.

“There’s four chimneys left from the old industrial period,” Glover said. “These four chimneys are an important part in reminding us that Kingston was a different place.”

On top of historical concerns, Glover said the environment also stands to benefit from the Heritage Committee’s recommendations.

“Everybody knows the green building is the existing building,” he said. “Repairing what’s there is really the best environmental practice.

“Those windows have lasted for close to 100 years and they’ll continue to last for another 100 years if they’re restored correctly.”

Glover said other concerns, aside from the heritage committee, have been voiced by members of the Kingston community. Some, including Glover, feared programming at the new centre would overlap with local venues, splitting revenue streams.

Margaret Walker, Director of the Queen’s School of Music said these concerns are unfounded because most performances at the centre will simply have moved from existing, but less impressive, on-campus facilities. “To split the audience doesn’t help anyone. We don’t have any plans for a new series,” she said.

“The concert series from Queen’s that will go into [the Isabel Bader Centre] are already going on.” Queen’s Performing Arts runs a series of professional performing artists annually at Grant Hall. The music department also hosts their evaluation performances and student showcases at Grant. All will be moved to the Bader Centre upon the facility’s completion.

Walker said the Music department had to pay around $1,600 last year to move pianos and other large instruments from the department headquarters at Harrison-LeCaine Hall on Bader Lane to Grant Hall and that the opening of the Bader Centre would eliminate this cost in the future.

Walker said the Music department has been vocal about a need for a campus concert hall for several decades. In the mid-1990s a group of McGill graduate students were commissioned to develop plans for a hall adjacent to Harrison-McLeCaine. The plans progressed as far as a cost study before being quashed.

The Film and Media department plans to move completely into the new centre, while Fine Art, Drama and Music will use the facility but still maintain other operational space on campus.

Drama department head Tim Fort said the new performing arts centre is the realization of a long-running dream among faculty members within the Queen’s creative arts community.

“My huge excitement is because of the integration of the arts departments,” he said. “The nature of all arts programs is collaborative … Because we’re all in separate buildings, our students aren’t naturally in a place where they can all mingle.”

Fort said the Isabel Bader Centre is the first step in establishing a creative arts campus.

“The building isn’t going to be large enough to fully support all of us,” he said. “That would take an entire arts campus which is an idea that’s been floated around for at least six or seven years.”

Although no creative arts campus is currently in the works, a Kingston-Queen’s collaboration has been happening since even before the Bader Centre’s groundbreaking ceremony on Oct. 1 2009. The J.K. Tett centre, located adjacent to the Isabel Bader site, is an arts facility to be operated by the city of Kingston.

Cynthia Beach, City Commissioner for Sustainability and Growth, is in charge of the J.K. Tett Centre. She said making Queen’s and Kingston neighbours with similar projects has potential to make a positive impact.

“It’s going to help build synergy within the arts community,” she said. “In the end it will strengthen the city’s relationship with Queen’s.”

Beech said there are plans of developing an arts council that will include representatives from the Tett and Bader centres as well as other local entertainment venues.

“There’s a willingness to work in a collaborative way so that it doesn’t end up being competitive,” she said. “The whole concept of this arts cluster is working together.”

All of this is contingent upon the project’s completion though, and Government funding for the Bader Centre carried the stipulation that the facility open by Sept. 2013. Project manager Mike Finn said the site plan should receive city council approval this winter. After the site plan is approved, Finn can seek a building permit and begin construction.

Construction is projected to finish by June of 2013, which leaves several months allotted for acoustic adjustments to the concert hall.

Using a similar project in Atlanta as an example, Finn estimated that construction would take around two years.

Since Principal Daniel Woolf and the Baders presided over the groundbreaking last October, no construction on the site has occurred except for an archaeological excavation that found pottery remnants and old military chemicals in the soil.

Finn said the Stella Buck building, which Queen’s purchased from the city for $1.8 million, is currently derelict.

“There’s no better word for it,” he said. “It’s home to a mother and three foxes and some raccoons.”

Finn said he hopes the economic climate will work to help reduce what is currently a $2 million overdraft.

“Hopefully the economy will dictate the prices coming down in construction,” he said. “Sounds like that maybe where people are heading with all this infrastructure being completed. There’s a lot of work out there now and there’s not going to be much work [when we begin construction].”

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