Clergy Street houses selling for $1

Twenty four Queen’s houses are going for $1 each, but the buyers must move the house.
Twenty four Queen’s houses are going for $1 each, but the buyers must move the house.

A dollar can’t buy much these days, but it can buy one of the houses that are currently standing in the path of the soon-to-be-built Queen’s Centre.

The only catch? The houses don’t come with the land, so purchasers have to move the homes themselves.

Tom Morrow, associate vice-principal (operations and facilities), said the idea to sell the Queen’s houses for $1 derived from questions from the public about the future of the 24 University-owned houses that face onto Clergy and Earl streets.

“We had been thinking about it for some time,” he said. “It had been discussed with the Frontenac Heritage Foundation about how we might go about disposing [of] the houses in the fall.”

Prior to deciding to sell the houses, Morrow said he had received around 60 calls inquiring whether the houses would be sold or demolished.

“We have been thinking about it and talking with people about it, and decided it was something worth pursuing,” he said. “I think having the houses relocated and continued to be used is a much more attractive idea than demolishing [them].”

As for the low price tag, Morrow said legalities prevented an outright house giveaway.

“There is a requirement legally [that] a transfer of property needs to have a transfer of assets, so [a price] was a legal requirement,” he said.

No offers have been made as of yet, he said.

He added that potential bidders would need to have an agreement finalized with the University by the end of May, and new owners would be required to completely remove the houses from where they stand by July 1.

The houses are being sold because ground is set to break as early as May for the Queen’s Centre, a $230-million student life facility that will occupy the land where the houses are currently located, and then some.

“We’re in the process of working out these details,” Morrow said. “The condition of it is that the new owner is able to remove the house from the site.”

This includes disconnecting services and utilities such as hydro, water and sewage, removing the house from the spot and filling in the hole.

Francois Moens, Sci ’07 and a tenant of 91 Clergy St., said he felt impartial about the University selling the house he lives in.

“I don’t see too much of a big deal about it. I can’t see [the houses] being worth much,” he said. “They have been used by students for so many years, they have been lived in and have been renovated.”

Despite the low price tag, Moens said he wouldn’t put in an offer. However, he said that aside from regular housing problems, there are still some charming features about the house.

“It’s definitely not the windows,” he said. “One of the rooms has a pretty nice old fireplace, but it has been blocked off. You can see old relics and designs in doorframes and banisters, but after years of students living here, they have taken quite the beating.”

Morrow said that most of the homes were old, but that none required preservation.

“None of the houses are designated under the [Ontario] Heritage Act, but they are still good houses.”

Helen Finlay, a member of the Frontenac Heritage Foundation, a not-for-profit organization committed to the conservation and awareness of local heritage buildings, said she was glad the University is offering the houses for sale.

“There [is] some good architectural detailing in a number of the houses, and of course if the houses are moved, that will remain,” she told the Journal. “Clergy Street homes are spacious and quite large for a family of four or five.”

The Frontenac Heritage Foundation recently visited all of the houses and created an inventory of the house’s decorative elements possible for restoration, Morrow said.

“[They will] provide that list to the demolitioner, and then it would be up to [the demolitioner] if they remove [pieces],” he said. “They go in and take what they feel has value.”

Morrow said the University wants to have the site cleared over the summer.

Finlay added that many of the houses have been standing for more than one hundred years.

“The [houses] on Clergy are from the late 1880s and early 1890s,” she said. “There are some earlier ones on Earl Street.”

Architectural details, such as mouldings and banisters, could also be recycled and used in restoring a house, she said.

“I think there is value, if it comes to demolition, that they are not knocked down with a bulldozer but demolished carefully, so the material can be used in other local restorative purposes,” she said.

John Sweetnam, owner of CDS Building Movers, a structural moving and consulting company based in Ottawa, has experience with moving Queen’s houses. His company moved seven houses from University Avenue in 1992 to make room for Stauffer Library. Sweetnam said the cost of moving a house depends on its size and feasibility.

“Smaller homes could cost $100,000 to move, and it could be between $140,000 and $160,000 for larger homes,” he said. “But they may not even be movable because the wider they are, the streets are not designed to carry wide buildings.”

Sweetnam said that most houses are generally 10 metres high so mature-growth trees and power lines can pose obstructions.

“Some of the smaller homes are more manageable,” he said.

He added that houses are usually moved during times when traffic is slow and the demand for utilities isn’t as high.

“We usually move on a Sunday,” he said. “At 5 a.m. in the morning, there is daylight and disconnection [of power] is not really a problem.”

Power lines and light standards have to be removed and disconnected on the route the house is taking, but people are generally affected for only a few hours, Sweetnam said.

“It takes quite a bit of organization,” he said.

Finlay said the homes up for sale would need to be restored because they have been renovated to accommodate students.

“When you get back to the original design, they are very well done,” she said. “I know they could make lovely family homes out of these places.”

Finlay added that most of the houses boast “well-proportioned rooms, generous windows and nice-sized ceilings.”

An information session is planned for those interested in purchasing the houses on Feb. 16 in the Policy Studies building, room 202 at 7 p.m. Morrow said the meeting will include a contractor and CDS Building Movers.

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