Restoration architect urges town to take action to save Sackville United Church

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Sackville town council is being urged to throw their support behind efforts to save the Sackville United Church from demolition.

SACKVILLE, N.B. – One of Canada's leading experts in restoring heritage buildings is urging Sackville town council to help support the community’s efforts to save a downtown landmark that has been a part of the local landscape for 135 years.

Preservation architect Chris Borgal of Toronto paid a visit to Sackville earlier this week to take a tour of the historic Sackville United Church, which is in a state of disrepair and under the threat of the wrecking ball.

“It’s a tremendous asset,” Borgal told members of town council during their monthly discussion session Monday night, which drew a large crowd of local residents who came out for the presentation. “It’s a work of art you have in your midst.”

Borgal is a well-renowned heritage consultant with specialized knowledge in historic restoration, heritage planning, building science, and museum design and has provided services on over 2,000 projects in Canada, the US and the Caribbean throughout his career. His visit was supported by the Canadian Heritage Foundation and came at no cost to the town.

Borgal said although the restoration of the Sackville church won’t come cheap or without challenges, he said if there is enough community interest to keep the church from being torn down, then he would encourage council to take the first step in ensuring that can happen.

This means “stabilizing” the building to keep the church from being torn down until a future use of the building can be determined.

“Basically you would try to use a minimum amount of resources to keep it afloat, to bide your time for the time being . . .”

Borgal anticipated that the town would need to pitch in about $100,000 to $150,000 upfront to make the necessary repairs to the building to keep it from further deterioration before winter sets in. This initial expenditure, which would basically be used for roof repairs and keeping the water out of the building, would buy about two years time, he said, which could be used to form a community committee and start raising the funds to move forward on repairing and re-purposing the church.

Borgal pointed out, however, that before the town does decide to make that financial commitment, they need to ensure they have enough backing from the public to take on this endeavor.

“You need a group of enthusiasts who are going to take this and go with it,” he said. “It’s got to come from the community. If you put the funds in without that, then it could be a lost cause.”

Borgal said with its direct connection to Mount Allison University and its deep roots with the community, the Sackville United Church is a building worth saving.

“I sure hope you can do it,” he said, noting that repurposing historic buildings helps the local economy, is beneficial to the environment and keeps the presence of the building in the community.

“Without it, you’d have a parking lot and a downtown with no distinct feature building at all.”

Virgil Hammock, a member of the community committee that has been looking at ways to save the 135-year-old church who was on-hand for the meeting on Monday, said the future of the church building will depend upon the political will of government representatives and the interest of the community.

“It is going to be costly . . . but if we don’t want to lose this iconic landmark of the community we have to do something.”

Hammock pointed out that a feasibility study, which was recently conducted to determine whether operating the United Church as a community centre would be a viable option, showed that the costs to fix up and renovate the building would be in the area of $1.5 million. And that didn’t include the costs for annual operation and maintenance costs, which were in the vicinity of $4,500 – a bill that would be hard to cover with the potential rental income that would be expected to come from the users of a community centre.

Based on the findings in the study, it was recommended that “converting the United Church into a community centre does not make good or feasible sense.”

Mayor Bob Berry said council will review the report as well as the information presented Monday night and “see what we can do.” He said it’s likely that the town will host a public meeting to entertain questions and gain feedback from local residents on the issue.

Organizations: Sackville United Church, Sackville town council, Canadian Heritage Foundation Mount Allison University

Geographic location: SACKVILLE, Canada, Toronto US Caribbean

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  • willie wonka
    October 10, 2013 - 20:18

    I don't know where the annual operation and maintenance cost of $4,500 came from---maybe they mean monthly. The provincial tax bill alone on a commercial building assessed at 1.5 million would be around $50,000 per year now that it is in the hands of a developer and not getting the free ride that a Church gets.

  • Anna Blakney
    October 10, 2013 - 09:45

    Up until two years ago I lived in Sackville for 48 years. My husband was born and brought up there .We also raised four children there. To see the United Church demolished would take away the Beacon of the town.Could not the bottom level be made into adult apartments and use the upstairs for a community center. This may be a way for a few investors to come up with the funds for renovations and get their money back in time. I was told at one time there is a lot of money in Sackville it is just to find out who would part with some. Just an opinion.