In Warsaw, Poland the market square of the old town was rebuilt following brutal destruction in the Second World War. “We will not accept the annihilation of our cultural monuments. We shall reconstruct them, we shall rebuild them from their foundations, in order to hand over to later generations if not the authentic, at least the precise former of these monuments, as it is alive in our memory,” stated Poland’s General Conservator Jan Zachwatowicz in 1946.
In Germany, the rebuilding process continues as Berliners have just rebuilt the Berlin Palace that dated to 1443. It was heavily damaged during the Allied bombing campaigns and demolished by Soviet authorities in 1950. Frankfurters have rebuilt 14th century Frankfurt in what is called the “new old city.”
And yet, in Stratford, tenders are being sought by the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance for the destruction of a monumental building, the city’s first general hospital, designed by significant Canadian architect, George F. Durand, and added onto by prominent local architects, Thomas James Hepburn (1910) and James Simpson Russell (1922). This symbol of civic pride and progress is slated for demolition for, can I really say, progress - or will it become just another parking lot, as the rumour mill has generated?
We need not even look to Europe considering the town council of Petrolia, Ontario heroically voted in favour of restoring Victoria Hall after a devastating fire. To no surprise given its stature and community value, this building was also designed by George F. Durand. Today, it is a national historic site and a landmark that has been reused as a theatre in charming little Petrolia.
Regarding Avon Crest, President and CEO of the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance, Andrew Williams, has stated that “future development will need to support the health and wellness needs of our community.” Undertaking an adaptive reuse project that preserves our first hospital is the first step to support the health of our community. Let’s first consider the city’s economic health. Williams argues that about $24 million is required to bring the building up to code. Rather than treating that money as a dreaded requirement, let’s consider it an investment into the community.
Unbeknownst to many, the cost breakdown associated with the restoration or rehabilitation of buildings is about 25 percent for materials and 75 percent for labour. For new construction, material and labour costs balance out at about 50 percent each. Put differently, restoration and rehabilitation has the potential for a more positive impact on the economy through wages paid to tradespeople who in turn spend money in the economy. Employ local contractors and tradespeople for the restoration and rehabilitation of Avon Crest and the result is millions of dollars invested in the local economy while keeping our local trades healthy and well.
Let’s turn to the environmental and physical health of our city and citizens. There’s two key points to consider. First, construction and demolition (C&D) waste accounts for anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of municipal waste, according to a study from the University of British Columbia. This translates to about 9 million tons of C&D waste in Canada every year. What a waste! New buildings are perceived as greener, but when we factor in the requirements to source and transport new material along with the waste generated from demolishing an existing building, our green building isn’t so green after all. In fact, it takes decades for a new building to pay off the carbon footprint of its construction. And just to dispel any myths, abatement to remove harmful materials like asbestos has to happen even when a building is demolished and that costs money. It should be no surprise then that “the greenest building is the one that is already built.”
Our second environmental and physical health consideration is the dire need to plan not for the future but for the present. Housing in Ontario is in short supply and many of our citizens simply need a roof over their heads. Imagine how many apartment units we could fit inside Avon Crest! The Baby Boomer generation is aging and already we need to consider adding more retirement and long-term care facilities. Imagine the peace of mind you would have knowing a loved one could reside in a renovated old hospital across the street from a new hospital! From our railway history to theatre and manufacturing, Stratford is an innovative city. Imagine the prestige and honour of adaptively reusing Avon Crest as a state of the art healthcare facility. It would continue a fine legacy in this city with a historic building capturing its identity.
Therefore, demolition is more than the erasure of history; it is plain shortsightedness and a waste of resources and opportunity. Once demolished a building and its legacy is gone. We need to do better, Stratford.
When I started writing about Stratford’s history, it was to shed light on our rich heritage and our cherished architecture, with the goal to reach the great citizens of this city - especially our youth who are stewards of our heritage and environment. I see no exception to that with Avon Crest.
If you are interested in seeing a valuable piece of Stratford’s history adaptively reused to serve benefit the health of the city for another 130 years, then please consider signing this petition that already has over 1,000 signatures: https://www.change.org/p/save-avon-crest-stratford-1891-preserve-our-heritage-and-protect-our-environment
Please also write to Mayor Martin Ritsma (MRitsma@stratford.ca) and city councilors, including Chair of the Planning and Heritage Sub-committee, Cody Sebben (CSebben@stratford.ca) as well as President and CEO of the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance (HPHA), Andrew Williams (email@example.com). There are template letters to get you started at: https://saveavoncrest.ca/what-you-can-do/.
Where some people see eyesores others see opportunity. All it takes is a little imagination.
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