Robert’s column

Robert’s column

Duncan’s historic City Hall should be saved

Robert’s column

Duncan’s City Hall is, arguably, the most iconic building in the Cowichan Valley.

The aging two-and-a-half-storey red brick building with its clock tower, located at the intersection of Kenneth Street and Craig Street in downtown Duncan, stands out from all the other buildings around it and has a long history in the community.

The structure was originally built in 1913 as the Federal Building and post office and was used as a post office until 1958.

After the post office moved to its current location on Ingram Street, the building that would become City Hall remained underutilized and poorly maintained.

By the early 1970s, the heritage building that had dominated the downtown core for decades had deteriorated to the point that demolition was being seriously considered.

That changed in 1974, when former Mayor Ken Paskin and the city council at the time decided to renovate the building into a new city hall.

It was a good decision to preserve the structure and it is now probably the most recognized building in the region.

That’s why I’m firmly behind the use of the base-isolation method to secure the building in the event of an earthquake, as is being recommended by consultants Tectonica Management Inc. and endorsed by city staff.

It’s a more expensive option than standard seismic upgrades done on most buildings these days, but it would likely save and preserve the old building much better after a major seismic event.

Basically, the building would be completely separated from its foundations and ball bearings, huge springs or some other means would be used to provide the structure much greater flexibility during an earthquake than standard methods.

That would be more expensive than conventional methods — in the range of $4.95 million compared to $4 million — as Rachel Hastings, Duncan’s manager of building and bylaw services, pointed out in her report on the issue.

But she said it’s important to note that a conventional seismic retrofit does not protect City Hall from a heritage perspective.

“It provides seismic safety for the occupants so the building does not collapse, but the building will not be usable after a code-level earthquake,” Hastings said.

“Whereas, with a base-isolation retrofit, the building can be used after a code-level earthquake, justifying the additional costs.”

When all the other planned upgrades and renovations at City Hall are added in, including the installation of a new roof, the total cost of the City Hall project is estimated to be more than $10 million.

It seems like a lot of money but, once again, Hastings puts that in perspective.

She said the costs of the construction of a new city hall on a different site would be between $7.2 million and $8 million, so the cost to upgrade and protect the existing City Hall is approximately $2.5 million more relative to a new building on a new site.

I think that’s well worth the cost to upgrade and protect that building which has become an integral part of the character of downtown Duncan.

And considering that the city could have easier access to grant money for the project if the purpose is to preserve a heritage building like City Hall, it also makes economic sense.

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