Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/3/2009 (3962 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
ABOUT 450 million years ago, what’s now southern Manitoba sat at the bottom of a vast ocean teeming with marine creatures such as trilobites and brachiopods, which were sort of like crabs and scallops but didn’t survive long enough to make it on to Red Lobster menus.
Over the next few million years, the remains of those creatures combined with the ocean floor to create the dolomite-mottled limestone known as Tyndall stone, even though the cream-and-grey rock is quarried in the town of Garson instead of in neighbouring, name-appropriate Tyndall.
Today, you can find extinct sea creatures and the Tyndall stone that encases them in the walls of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, Saskatchewan's legislature and the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Que.
But Tyndall stone itself may not survive on the walls of a very high-profile Winnipeg edifice — the Public Safety Building, a six-storey structure on Princess Street that's been marked for death for 16 months.
Back in November 2007, the city put the brakes on a plan to fix the crumbling facades of the 44-year-old PSB because a repair job originally pegged at about $17 million was actually going to cost more than $40 million.
The problem wasn't just replacing the stone, which has started to separate from the walls of the building. It was the price associated with "decanting" — the process of moving Winnipeg police personnel and some of their sensitive operations into temporary offices elsewhere and then moving them back.
Although there are no structural problems with the Public Safety Building, politicians and police alike began to think there might be better ways to spend $40 million.
So back in December 2007, they started to muse about building or renovating a brand-new police headquarters and either finding a buyer for the PSB or knocking the modernist structure down.
The fate of the Public Safety Building was supposed to be sealed last spring, when a report was supposed to arrive on Mayor Sam Katz's desk. But four full seasons have passed and the city still hasn't made a decision, mainly because a decision isn't easy to make: A brand-new police headquarters could cost $100 million, according to an infrastructure-funding wish list Katz submitted to Ottawa in January in an attempt to get his mitts on the federal economic-stimulus package.
11Red River College, whose downtown campus sits right across Princess Street, is interested in the PSB but reluctant to muse about moving into the structure before it finds all the money it needs to expand into Main Street's Union Bank Tower. Such is life for public institutions reliant on government funds.
If the PSB is demolished, the Winnipeg Parking Authority could adjust its plans to renovate the Civic Centre Parkade and create a larger parking facility with some form of commercial component. Mixed-use development is part of the city agency's plan to create more downtown parkade stalls.
But even the mere mention of demolition has upset some architects, academics and heritage-preservation types, who appreciate the modernist Public Safety Building for the same reason other people find it ugly.
Not only is the stark PSB a rare product of the "brutalist" school of design, it's part of a large and completely intact ensemble of modernist buildings that also includes city hall, the Centennial Concert Hall, the Manitoba Museum and the concrete plazas surrounding these buildings.
While a heritage battle over the PSB might sound absurd, the city could actually take heat from Ottawa if demolition looks more attractive to number-crunchers than renovation.
The trilobites found in the PSB's walls have managed to remain intact in Tyndall stone for 450 years. But the building itself may not see its fifth decade.
Human beings may have bigger brains, but bottom-dwelling sea creatures have us beat when it comes to creating artifacts that actually last.