City accused of mishandling heritage building structural issue
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An Exchange District heritage building had to be vacated over concerns it might collapse because of a damaged beam —an experience some say highlights the challenge of preserving aging buildings.
On May 12, the city ordered 92 Arthur St. to be vacated immediately until a crushed beam that supported its sixth storey could be repaired. The owner was ordered to temporarily shore up the beam by May 18.
The city’s property and development committee heard an appeal of that order this week, even though the owner completed the work within a day of the deadline.
Owner Dennis Boyko said he’s committed to getting a permit by June 30 to complete permanent repairs. He appealed the order over concerns about the city’s process and his initial fear the government would take over the repairs if he couldn’t finish them on time and charge him a fee he can’t afford.
“The thing that scared me most is (the risk of) allowing the city the right to take over the work and do it themselves, regardless of the cost… This was a very stressful period for me,” Boyko told the committee.
Boyko said he lost thousands of dollars because he was forced to close his business, Red River Book Store, until the work was completed. He said he grew frustrated when he couldn’t reach city officials to ask questions about the order and whether he could complete it a day late.
He also questioned whether the city was correct to conclude the building was at risk of collapsing.
“This was one deficient beam. I can’t understand how the one deficient beam would bring down (or) implode the entire building,” he said.
Councillors at the meeting said the city must impose tight deadlines for building repairs that pose a safety risk.
“If there is a possibility the building could collapse, then I do think the city is justified saying ‘fix it or get everyone out,’” said Coun. Janice Lukes.
Lukes said she is frustrated by the complaint that city officials were not available to answer the Boyko’s questions.
“When you issue a notice that basically says to a business that you have to get this fixed by a certain date… someone needs to be on the other end to take the call and talk it through (with) the person,” she said.
Coun. Cindy Gilroy, the committee’s chairwoman, said she believes the city communicated frequently with an engineer who assessed the beam but isn’t sure that information reached the owner.
Gilroy said she’s sympathetic about the cost to keep up some buildings, which is why she urges the owners of aging structures to reach out to experts at Heritage Winnipeg for advice on how best to maintain them.
“I think it’s a challenge for anyone that owns any kind of building if you don’t have the means. They can be difficult. That’s why… it’s really important to keep up with the maintenance in these aging facilities because things can creep up on you,” said Gilroy.
Cindy Tugwell, the executive director of Heritage Winnipeg, told the committee she supported the order to repair the building but was concerned about its time frame and the potential lack of communication. She told the committee there’s a need to impose clear criteria for owners to maintain buildings to avoid more serious problems.
“There’s no real strong criteria for maintenance on so many building owners in the Exchange… When you have structural problems, roof problems, water damage, it becomes a huge problem and we’ve lost a lot of buildings (due to that),” said Tugwell.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.