What do you do with the charred remains of a 147-year-old wooden heritage building badly damaged by fire?
If you are Kelowna city council, you spend $29,000 to build a temporary roof over what’s left of the structure to protect during the winter.
That’s what the city plans to do after a close vote by city council last week.
The building, known as the Fleming House, is located on land just off Dilworth Drive at the foot of Dilworth Mountain. It sits beside the old Brent’s Grist Mill, oldest surviving grist mill in B.C. Both buildings were moved to the site by the city in 2002 with some other, smaller historic buildings with as part of a plan to one day create a heritage park.
But the Fleming house, which was vacant at the time, was badly damaged by fire during th summer, leading to speculation it could be demolished.
It was not torn down and following a recommendation by city staff that a temporary roof be built over the wooden structure to protect it from the elements this winter, council narrowly agreed in a 5-4 vote.
Some councillors, like Gail Given, argued despite a lack of interest by the public in the adaptive reuse of the building before it burned, it is worth saving and could still be used thanks to completion of the nearby Okanagan Rail Trail. That move, she said, could see the site become popular with the public.
Others, however, like Coun. Luke Stack and Mayor Colin Basran, said spending the money to protect a building so badly damaged by fire is a waste.
The July fire destroyed the two-storey building’s porch, inside, much of its roof and parts of some walls.
The house was one of the first build in the area by European settlers in the late 1800s.
The city wanted to find someone willing to take over the building and adapt it for modern day use, similar to a project that did that with the former Surtees barn in the Mission a few years ago. But there was no interest and the Fleming house, along with the grist mill and an adjacent dairy barn on the Dilworth Drive property have sat vacant for years.
The site is fenced off and closed to the public but there hv been reports of squatters inthe buildings in the past.
Stack argued the money would be better spent demolishing what’s left of the building and protecting and fixing up the nearby grist mill instead.
In the end, council’s decision will protect what’s left of the Fleming House over the winter and the city will decide next year what to do with it.
A city staff report said the pine logs used to build the house are in surprisingly good shape despite the fire, but the cost of restoring the building will be expensive.
The Fleming House is a local heritage building.
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