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Council pushing ahead to determine fate of historic court house

Posted on November 18, 2015 by Taber Times

Trevor Busch
Taber Times

With the town abandoning the defunct Centre Court for the Performing Arts proposal in favour of a new performing arts facility, the future of the historic courthouse and old library and police station complex is now uncertain.

At their Nov. 9 meeting, town council voted unanimously to direct administration to provide a set of options for council’s consideration for use or disposal of the old police station and library complex, and historic courthouse.

Work on the original Taber Courthouse, a designated provincial historic resource, is continuing, with the building entrance completed earlier in 2015. The building’s windows are now slated for the next improvements. The town’s objective is to restore the historic building so that it can generate a revenue stream or be sold, enabling more long-term sustainability.

“I’ve always thought it would be nice to see the courthouse free-standing,” said Mayor Henk DeVlieger.

“It’s one of the few historic buildings we have left in town, and I think it’s worth preserving, and the only way I think is if it goes back to a free-standing structure.”

The old police station and library complex, currently attached to the historic courthouse, do not meet building code requirements for full public access, but serves currently as a storage, rehearsal and set construction facility for the Taber Players. The complex costs the town roughly $7,000 per year for utilities, with typical maintenance costs adding to that amount. According to administration, the buildings could potentially be leased but a “considerable amount of work” would be required before that might be feasible.

A partial demolition of the eastern garage section of the old police station could allow the Taber Players to remain in the facility, despite the elimination of their workshop currently located in the former garage area. The estimated cost of this demolition would be $70,000.

“That could create two lots, while leaving the old library and police station alone,” said DeVlieger. “I think personally, I’ve been in those buildings — sure they’re not up to snuff anymore, but structurally they’re actually still pretty sound. By having it a separate property, there might be an opportunity to just sell it as is and leave it up to whoever is interested, to do with the building what they want to do, either demolishing it, or renovating it for another purpose. You could divide it into three lots and sell it separately, too.”

Demolishing the structures (old police station and library complex) would leave the historic courthouse alone on three lots, allowing the town to sell the two lots between the courthouse and Telus building for redevelopment, such as a multi-family residential complex. According to administration, selling the two lots would cover the cost of the demolition (estimated to be between $200,000-$300,000).

“I remember the courthouse on a elementary school trip, being amazed how impressive it was, the beautiful judge’s bench and all the tables,” said Coun. Jack Brewin.

“When I went on the council tour, it was heartbreaking. I couldn’t figure out why in the world the town would want to own this building. It’s in terrible shape. If we could find someone to sell it to, as the mayor says, it’s a historic building — I just wish it wasn’t our responsibility. My feeling is to keep the courthouse and demolish the other buildings, and hopefully maybe sell them.”

The Town of Taber estimates that, depending on the client, a restored courthouse facility could potentially earn the town between $20,000-$40,000 per year in lease revenue.

“I’d like to see us knock that garage down, separate that courthouse property, and put it up for sale and sell if for what we can get for it,” said Coun. Joe Strojwas. “Let the purchaser carry on, apply for historic grants, make payment and put money into it. It’s unfortunate about the Taber Players, but I don’t think they need all three buildings there.”

Constructed in 1918, the Taber Courthouse became the model for Alberta courthouses built prior to WWII. After being declared a judicial sub-district in 1917, the Town of Taber donated land for the construction of the courthouse building that would also house the local detachment of the newly-formed Alberta Provincial Police. The Taber Courthouse was also a site for meetings of local community organizations and Taber town council. Following the dissolution of the judicial sub-district, the courthouse continued to be used for a variety of provincial government activities and in 1953 became the official Town Hall.

“That’s prime land, and I think we should give administration the opportunity to come back with a set of options regarding it,” said Coun. Randy Sparks. “My opinion is, as soon as possible a for sale goes out, and see what people offer — see what people have to say, what their future vision of that area is, and what they feel they would like to do with that. It’s tough right now — these buildings aren’t up to code — but if someone is interested and they want to bring them up to code, their might be some really good options out there for people. I think we need to put them up for sale and deal with them. That’s prime land there, and if someone wants to demolish it and put a beautiful building up there — go for it.”

According to Alberta Culture, the heritage value of the Taber Courthouse lies in its association with the administration of justice in early Alberta, and as an architectural prototype for Alberta courthouses designed prior to WWII. Character-defining elements include the symmetrical single-storey rectangular plan, stucco and brick exterior, classically inspired projecting entrance, large round-arched multi-paned tripartite transom and sidelights, and entrance arch supported on brackets.

If the buildings were to be demolished and the lots sold for redevelopment, Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux pressured administration to work with the Taber Players to find other options for the group should they be displaced.

“They do make tremendous use of that building right now. We’re working on getting a new theatre down the road, I’d find it kind of sad if we had to displace them before they found another home. I know this isn’t a surprise for them, they’re aware of this situation.”

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