‘Irresponsible’ city officials let 2 heritage buildings rot, advocates say
City officials let two heritage buildings fall into disrepair, costing buyers to convert the properties into affordable housing at least $1 million in repairs.
It is « irresponsible » neglect on the part of the city, which must lead by example when it comes to maintaining heritage properties, a heritage advocate has said.
« The condition of the properties was not quite as advertised. Unfortunately they have been very poorly maintained by the city leaving them to deteriorate much faster than if they had been properly stabilized, » said Graham Cubitt, manager projects and development at Indwell, which is redeveloping Children’s War Memorial Hospital and the Health Services Building, part of the former South Street Hospital complex in SoHo.
« They are still recoverable and we are happy to work on them, but it makes things much more expensive and complicated than it could have been. It’s frustrating…As a public entity, the city could do best to maintain its heritage assets for the future. »
Indwell is part of the Vision SoHo Alliance, a group of six nonprofit housing developers who will create more than 682 units, many of them affordable, on the site. The city’s contribution to the project will be $14 million.
« If you don’t spend the modest amount of money needed to keep a building warm and maintain it, of course it costs a lot more to restore it and bring it back to life. That was irresponsible, » he added. said Susan Benley, former chair of the Heritage London Foundation, which manages two heritage properties for the city, and a member of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario.
The city purchased the old hospital grounds and buildings in 2020. The buildings were already in disrepair, and the city replaced roofs and « took steps to secure » the heritage structures, a spokesperson said. the city. Their poor condition was revealed to Vision SoHo Alliance, according to officials.
But it seems that replacing the roof and security were not enough. When Indwell bought the properties — they took possession last month — the roofs were leaking, there was a lot of water in the basement, and the dampness had created mold everywhere, Cubbit said.
The South Street site of Victoria Hospital was established in 1875. The War Memorial Children’s Hospital was built in 1922 and the Health Services Building, which includes an auditorium, in 1932. Both are listed as heritage properties by the City of London. The rest of the buildings on the site were demolished by the city to make way for the rest of the development.
« Unfortunately, the big problem we have is water, » Cubbit said. « The roof was not properly maintained and many metal salvagers came in and removed a lot of the cast iron drains, leaving all the water coming down through the roof drains to find a way into the building. . »
Underground, many drains connected to sewers were disconnected during demolition, leaving basements to fill with water, he added.
« We often had five or six feet of water in the basement, which obviously creates a tremendous amount of dampness and dampness issues, so those are the main factors in building deterioration. »
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Those entering the building must be trained to use special respirators because of the mold, Cubbit said. The problems were known at the close, but could have been avoided, he added. On Friday, there will be a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the start of construction of the project.
“I was very disappointed when I heard about this neglect,” Bentley said. « Anyone should have had the foresight to see that allowing water to accumulate in a basement was going to threaten the integrity of the building. »
It’s important to honor the history of the site, and it’s exciting that both buildings are being redeveloped, she said.
« I think it’s wonderful that these buildings can be saved, » she said. « History is so important. It gives a richness to our environment. »