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Church redevelopment could aid historic Harbour Grace courthouse’s future

The historic courthouse building may soon have a new owner. The Department of Transportation and Works recently confirmed to The Compass it will issue a call for expressions of interest for the structure in the coming weeks.
The historic courthouse building may soon have a new owner. The Department of Transportation and Works recently confirmed to The Compass it will issue a call for expressions of interest for the structure in the coming weeks. - File photo

Department of Transportation and Works planning to issue call for expressions of interest in coming weeks

HARBOUR GRACE, N.L.

With the former Immaculate Conception Church in Harbour Grace set to gain a new lease on life, some may wonder what the future holds for a historic stone structure just around the corner from it.

It’s been almost three years since the courthouse building was last in use, with the services having moved to the Babb Building at the beginning of 2016. In need of repairs to walls that are at risk of collapsing inward, the provincial government has held on to the building, but it appears that may soon change. Built in 1830, it was the oldest provincially-owned public building in use prior to closure.

Responding to an interview request with Minister Steve Crocker to discuss the 188-year-old structure’s future, the Department of Transportation and Works did not make the minister available to The Compass. However, in a statement, the department said an expression of interest for the property will be issued “in the coming weeks.”

Harbour Grace Mayor Don Coombs
Harbour Grace Mayor Don Coombs

The Compass contacted the department after obtaining information about the building through access to information requests.

“The Department of Transportation and Works recognizes the value of the Harbour Grace Courthouse as a designated National Historic Site and we are actively working to finalize a plan for its future that will appropriately respect its heritage and value to the community,” the department said in a statement released to The Compass Friday, Nov. 2.

Just down the road from the courthouse, the former Catholic cathedral is due to be transformed into a brewery, restaurant, spa and hotel by its new owners, Craig Flynn and Brenda O’Reilly. Restoration work for that project is expected to require millions of dollars.

It would seem the courthouse is in a similar position. While there is not a known cost to address structural concerns at the old courthouse, government officials have in the past suggested it would require millions.

The future

Does the fact the old church has found new benefactors give the courthouse building hope for a brighter future? Harbour Grace Mayor Don Coombs believes so.

“I’m looking at the glass half full, not half empty,” he told The Compass. “I see opportunity coming from that.”

Harbour Grace-Port de Grave MHA Pam Parsons
Harbour Grace-Port de Grave MHA Pam Parsons

Harbour Grace-Port de Grave MHA Pam Parsons has even heard from parties in recent months who have expressed an interest in acquiring the building.

“Having some people approach me, and these are recent conversations I would say within this past month,” she said, adding potential suitors will get a chance to look inside the building once the expression of interest is released.

Much like the mayor, Parsons views activity down the road at the church as good news for the courthouse’s future. She said the church, once work on it is completed, will inevitably bring people to Harbour Grace.

“Personally, I think any economic development and expansion in any area within our district is certainly going to be positive and enticing for other people to come on board, especially with regards to tourism,” she said.

Coombs said the town has kept in touch with Minister Crocker about the courthouse. He acknowledged too in an ideal world, it would be a great municipal building. The previous council even went so far as to contact the provincial government in early 2017, just over a year after the courthouse closed, to indicate the town was interested in acquiring the property.

However, Coombs, who did not serve on that council, said the town would not be in a position to take ownership of the building.

“That’s a pipe dream,” he said, noting council has other priorities to contend with.

“I just hope somebody gets the courthouse and does it up and complements the church development there, because people are excited.”

Even though it has not been in use for the last three years, the property continues to cost the province. According to figures obtained through an access to information request, between January 2016 and the beginning of October 2018, government spent $75,374.83 on the property. Most of those expenses relate to heating oil, with additional costs including payments made to engineering firms, electricity bills, security and small general-upkeep jobs.

Some structural inspections were carried out in August by Tiller Engineering. The department told The Compass this was done to “both ensure the building continues to pose no risk to public safety and to inform next steps for the divestment of the property.”

SEE RELATED:

'Mixed feelings in Harbour Grace about former church's future'

'Harbour Grace mayor excited about new business coming to town'

'New owner needed for historic Harbour Grace courthouse'

editor@cbncompass.ca

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