Queen’s shackled by small budget

Former Prison for Women has seen no development since purchased by Queen’s in 2007

Portions of the women's prison roof
Image by: Asad Chishti
Portions of the women's prison roof

A Queen’s official says there are still no concrete plans for development on the former women’s prison, which was purchased by the University in 2007.

Queen’s spent $2.8 million to buy the prison facility, which had been vacant for seven years. Anne Browne, associate vice-principal of facilities, said the building needs a slew of expensive upgrades that aren’t financially feasible. When the prison was shut down, the hydro, sewage and steam systems were turned off.

“[It] was bought as a cold building,” Browne said, adding that the term ‘cold’ refers to the building’s lack of operational services, like heating. “Very honestly, we don’t have any money to do any renovations on it.”

Since Queen’s doesn’t pay tax on the property, lawn care is the only expense needed to keep the facility, Browne said.

The eight-acre property is on Sir John A. Macdonald Boulevard. Browne said the proximity to West Campus makes the facility ideal for a residence if enrollment continues to increase.

“It would be a great place for a residence,” she said, adding that there aren’t any concrete plans for the building.

Former Vice-Principal of Operations and Finance Andrew Simpson was responsible for negotiating the purchase of the property from Canada Lands Company.

In September 2007, Simpson told the Journal that one possibility was to establish a Queen’s Archives in the prison’s administration building.

“We will be pursuing that as potential first occupant of the new facility,” he said.

Browne said this may no longer be an option due to high humidity levels in the building, adding that it would be costly to remedy such an issue.

The prison, built in 1934, is protected by a Kingston heritage bylaw. The bylaw designates areas of the roof, walls and cell block that must be preserved, adding to the cost of a potential renovation.

Selling the property isn’t an option, Browne said.

“Quite frankly, who’d buy it?” she said. “There are historical issues on the building, so there’s not a lot of people that would want to take that on.”

Browne said she plans to conduct a study this summer to determine what exactly needs to be preserved under the heritage bylaw.

The only funds allocated to the property are being used to hire a heritage consultant.

Heritage consultants are hired by property owners to compile a history of on-site buildings and analyze what architectural features are desirable to retain.

“I have a very small pot of money,” Browne said. “I want somebody to come in and do a report on the building.”

Kingston’s heritage planning committee has worked with Queen’s on other projects to ensure the renovations don’t compromise the historical integrity of older buildings. The committee asked Queen’s to spend over $300,000 to restore a chimney and windows on the University’s new arts centre on King Street.

Committee member John Duerkop said the vacant facility preserves a piece of prison history.

”It’s important that there be an example of what people thought a prison should be like in the past,” said John Duerkop, a member of the heritage committee.

He added that parts of the building are to be maintained for their unique construction, notably the opening and closing mechanisms of the prison’s cell block. “Kingston’s got these little gems and it’s very fortunate that we can keep them until we find some use for them,” Duerkop said. “I’m disappointed that they haven’t so far been able to utilize the building, but their intention was to do so.”


Budget, Campus Planning, Real Estate, Residence, Women's Prison

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