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Architect heartbroken as committee votes to demolish PSB

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg architect Leslie Stechesen in front of the old PSB building.</p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg architect Leslie Stechesen in front of the old PSB building.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/4/2016 (407 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The debate on the fate of the Public Safety Building came down to a simple fact for civic officials: dollars trump heritage.

Councillors on the property and development committee Tuesday endorsed an administrative recommendation that calls for the demolition of the PSB and the property to be redeveloped, most likely as public green space.

"We can delude ourselves and say we don't have to consider (the cost) but I can tell you we have a lot of heritage building that really need to be protected," said Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, a member of the committee and chairwoman of the city's historical buildings and resources committee.

Planning director John Kiernan said restoring the building's Tyndall stone exterior would likely cost about $7 million but $66 million or more would be needed to modernize the interior of the building to be re-used by other civic departments. Kiernan said the administration could not recommend saving the building, knowing the costs involved.

The committee's decision was heartbreaking for Les Stechesen, the local architect who designed the building with an appearance he acknowledged wasn't liked by many people.

"I have the impression this day was pre-determined from the start — they wanted to tear the building down," Stechesen, who was 30 years old when he designed the building.

Now 81, Stechesen said he's devastated by the committee's decision.

Kiernan was flanked by several city staff who said the six-storey, 50-year-old building isn't worth saving. Kiernan said the administrative decision was based on an independent consultant's report, which concluded the building is structurally sound but would be too expensive to rehabilitate.

Winnipeg police are moving out of the PSB into the new headquarters on Graham Avenue. The move should be completed by the end of July.

The PSB and the adjoining civic parkade comprise 2.4 acres. The land the PSB was built on was gifted to the city in 1875, with the condition it could only be used for municipal public purposes and if not, the land had to be returned to the heirs of the family who gifted the property.

When council in 2009 decided to convert the former Canada Post warehouse into a new police headquarters, the plan at the time was the PSB would be sold, with the proceeds of the sale used to offset the cost of the new facility. However, city officials said they subsequently learned of the restrictions on the PSB property that prevented it from being sold.

The PSB is Winnipeg's best example of Brutalist architectural style. Stechesen told councillors on the committee the problems with the PSB are no worse than several other buildings across the city that were constructed during the same mid-century period and have subsequently been renovated, including the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Workers Compensation building on Broadway, the RBC Convention Centre and the Centennial Concert Hall.

Mayor Brian Bowman has said he supports demolition of the PSB and developing the site in consultation with the community.

The report by Deloitte gave city hall three options for the property, all of them involving demolition of the PSB and the adjacent civic parkade, which has been closed since 2012 because it's structurally unsound.

The administration recommended demolishing both the PSB and the parkade, selling the parkade land and developing the PSB site as a public green space.

However, officials said it's possible other alternatives could see the property developed in a civic campus design, which would include either a large or smaller parkade.

Gerbasi said nothing would be gained by having the PSB assessed for a potential formal historic structure, adding they already know it would qualify. Kiernan said the heritage features of the building include its unique Tyndall stone exterior, the police chief's office on the top floor, and the main foyer.

Kiernan said the PSB would not be demolished until a development plan for a replacement use of the site has been presented and approved by council.

Earlier in the meeting, Cindy Tugwell, executive director of Heritage Winnipeg, said local architects and engineers have questioned many of the conclusions of the Deloitte report. Tugwell questioned what she said appears to be city hall’s rush to demolish the building, adding the PSB should be formally nominated as a historic building and allow local experts to assess the building’s merits.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Aldo Santin.

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History

Updated on Tuesday, April 12, 2016 at 2:16 PM CDT: Writethru, photos updated

5:04 PM: writethru

5:36 PM: writethrough

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