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Once stabilized, future of historic drill hall to be put on hold

Council to seek proposals from the community on its future use, with renovations estimated to cost another $5 million
20210924 Drill hall building 74 Farquhar Guelph RV
The city-owned drill hall building at 74 Farquhar St. has sat vacant since 2006.

Once the city’s historic drill hall building has been stabilized to the tune of about $4.5 million, the site will be secured and work there will be put on hold until a “suitable” community use is found, council decided on Monday evening.

The move comes on the heels of a staff report which suggests an additional $5 million would be needed to make the building usable, while noting there is currently no use identified for it.

“There would have to be a heavy investment in this building,” deputy CAO Jayne Holmes told council of the pre-Confederation structure on the northeast corner of Wyndham and Farquhar streets.

Council’s motion also instructs staff to solicit proposals for the property’s future use. 

Ahead of council’s vote, Patti Broughton of Guelph Arts Council suggested the two-and-a-half-storey, 2,260 sq. m. drill hall be converted into a multi-use creative hub.

“Despite the assets that Guelph has in its creative community, affordable space to create, rehearse, exhibit and perform remains inadequate, putting at risk the ability of local artists to live and work here,” Broughton said. 

“The space would engage residents and visitors; provide an incubator space for new creative projects; offer affordable and accessible creation, education and presentation space … and deliver benefits for vulnerable communities through arts programming.”

The city acquired the drill hall as part of a 2017 land swap deal with Metrolinx intended to help bring about extended GO train service. At that time, a $2 million budget was approved for stabilization work.

However, given the deteriorating condition of the building, those efforts are now expected to cost about $4.5 million, not including the aforementioned restoration work. As a result, the city transferred an additional $2.5 million from other approved projects in August.

“Metrolinx has some work they need to do there as well,” said Holmes.

A market sounding study was issued this past summer to gather ideas on potential future uses for the drill hall. It garnered about 50 anonymous responses from community groups, most of which indicated they can’t afford the needed renovations, along with six developers with no interest in the building due to its condition and heritage protections in place.

The open call for proposals council approved on Monday is intended to identify specific uses and user groups.

Stabilization work is expected to be done by mid-next year, noted Holmes, who noted more specific renovations costing information will be determined by what the end use is decided to be.

Coun. Dominque O’Rourke urged staff to consider existing public and private spaces in the area, such as River Run Centre, in order to avoid “cannibalizing” them for the sake of the drill hall.

Council was also asked to move up prioritization of repairs for McQuillan’s Bridge on Stone Road East, spanning the Eramosa River, built in 1916.

The bridge is “an integral part” of an active transportation trail, as no vehicle traffic is allowed to cross it, stated John Fisher, president of the Guelph Hiking Trails Club.

“This bridge will not survive another 10 years of neglect,” he said. “The bridge is in terrible shape. It’s one fallen lump of concrete away from being declared a liability.”

An environmental assessment is currently scheduled for 2024, with design getting underway in 2028 and restoration work expected in 2030.

“There are things we can do now to make sure demolition by neglect doesn’t occur,” offered Coun. Phil Allt, noting repairs to the bridge’s exposed rebar should be on the city’s to-do list. “It is very, very clear that bridge is in need of some tender, loving care.”

While the bridge is currently closed to traffic, it’s used daily for active transportation such as cycling and walking, Allt added.

“The longer we wait, the more it’s going to cost and the further the deterioration occurs,” said Coun Leanne Caron. “We need to do something as a council to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

The bridge is examined for safety concerns annually, with regular maintenance intended to ensure it remains usable, explained Holmes.

“This inspections dictate what maintenance needs to be done,” she said. “We will continue to do those inspections, continue to do that maintenance.”

If council wants to move up bridge restoration work, it’ll have an opportunity to do that through the upcoming budget process, Mayor Cam Guthrie pointed out.