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, walls and cell block are preserved by the city's heritage committee.
Portions of the women's prison roof, walls and cell block are preserved by the city's heritage committee.
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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.”

Campus plan in the works

A second Correctional Service Canada property will soon be on the market. The old mansion, now used as offices, was pegged as a potential Queen’s property when the University was looking to expand in 2005.

“We’ve all heard it’s coming on the market,” Browne said. “Corrections [Canada] has always thought it would be neat if Queen’s would want to purchase this because it’s adjacent to the other property.”

In October 2005, the Journal reported that Queen’s had expressed interest in the 440 property as well as two others on King Street West. The University purchased part of the J.K. Tett Complex, located at 370 King Street West from the City in July 2006. The property will house the Isabel Bader Centre for Performing Arts. No formal discussions have taken place with Correctional Service

Canada in regards to purchasing the King Street property, Browne said.

“There’s no funding for it right now,” she said.

“We have no idea what the financial implications are.

“We can’t put in the millions of dollars it would cost to do development on the prison land.”

Although no purchases are currently in the works, Browne said, Queen’s campus includes a few potential areas which could be developed. The largest plot of land available to be developed is the parking lot behind Victoria Hall.

On Monday, a new working group launched to discuss the sitting and massing of residences on campus.

“[We’re finding out] what could we actually do if we needed to build a new residence building?” she said. “We do promise every first-year student a room ... we have to be ready because it takes one year to plan and two years to build. “

A campus plan hasn’t been done since 2002, Browne said, adding that the University has recently hired a planner.

“We’re hoping that by this time next year, we have a really good plan of where we should be going,” she said. “That will help us as well to understand where we should and shouldn’t go … what is our growth pattern.”

A brief history of the women's prison

Kingston’s Prison for Women, officially opened in 1934, however women weren’t the first to be imprisoned at the facility. In 1932, Kingston Penitentiary was overcrowded and officials sent 100 male prisoners to the women’s facility, which was still under
construction.

The male inmates stayed at the prison until 1933. During the Second World War, female
prisoners of war were brought in to a segregated area of the prison, drastically
increasing the inmate population of 40 to 121.

On the evening of April 22 1994, a group of six inmates attacked four guards, taking one hostage for a few minutes in an attempt to steal keys to the facility. Inmates involved were overtaken and sent to segregation cells where they were held by restraints.

After videos of the restraint and strip searching of women aired on national television, the solicitor general called for a formal investigation into practices used against
the female inmates.

In 1998, the solicitor general announced that the Prison for Women in Kingston would be closed within two years. In that time, five new facilities for women were opened across Canada.

On July 6 2000, the remaining inmates of the Kingston prison were dispersed and the facility closed its doors officially.

Correctional Service Canada

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