Letter to the Editor (May 5, 2015)

What to do with the Rail Shops  

There are many ideas of how all or in part of the existing building could be re-purposed.  Some believe a part of the building should be renovated for whatever unknown future uses that may occur there.  There are others that believe until someone comes up with the cash to do anything this eye sore should be demolished to make the land more attractive to developers. Both options will be at the taxpayer’s expense.  

This barrier to downtown from the neighbourhood south of St. David Street is an eyesore, it cannot be used and it is unsafe. For many reasons this building is the story of Stratford and it has heritage value.  

The lowest cost way to address the make safe work order is to place a fence around it. But after over 20 years of disregard maybe it is the time to spend a little more than the cost of the fence to make the building and site safe, attractive and accessible while still offering the potential for future development with or without the building. This can be achieved by stripping it down and cleaning it up. Remove all components of the building that need to be replaced or repaired for full reuse.  

This leaves the concrete walls with the embedded steel columns and the concrete floor remaining. Both are very expensive to remove and have no scrap value. The concrete can be cleaned and the steel columns sand blasted and painted. The pilasters of the walls can be featured by illumination at night. By removing the panel below the lower window sills the building and site become accessible. People can see and walk through it as it now connects the university campus and Downtown to the neighbourhood south of the site.  

The taxpayer now has the frame of this heritage building that is safe, accessible and attractive. It can be built upon, within, through or around as future development is proposed over the next 5 to 40 years. It becomes a medium for free stand construction within or re-purposed with full or partial enclosure of portions of the remaining frame that can support an insulated clear span roof bearing snow load with the existing openings filled with energy efficient windows in doors for any future use.  

If demolition and site remediation is required for future development then let that cost be borne by the developer at that time and not the taxpayer now.  It could be used for a green space, gathering place, outdoor marketplace, skateboard park, etc.  The possibilities are endless. In the meantime we have safe, accessible and attractive structure and site that was part of our past but will now also be part of our future.  

If we tear it down it will be gone forever.  If we repair and maintain, even a portion of it, we may be faced with huge costs.  

I believe that what’s best for the taxpayer would be to make the building safe and accessible with the least amount of money.  

This concrete shell is a monument of the great industrial past to Stratford and its citizens. A platform or medium to take it from what it is what it could be.    

Robert Ritz, Architect 

Top Points Against Full Demolition

Before Council decides to commission partial or full demolition the following points have to be addressed and  questions have to be answered. The focus should not be to tear it down but to make the site and building safe,  usable and attractive at the lowest cost for the taxpayer and any future purchaser.  

Why should the building not be totally demolished – because of the cost!!  

  1. Free enterprise demolishes buildings to reduce property taxes. This reason does not apply to this  property.  
  2. What are the taxpayers’ costs to date for this property?  
  3. Does the purchaser pay the cost of full or partial demolition on top of what the City’s costs to date are  for property?  
  4. What is the cost to demolish?  
  5. Designated Substances affect the cost of repair or demolition. Was a Designated Substance Report  prepared and considered in the cost to repair or demolish?  
  6. Explain how or if the taxpayer will ever recover the costs the City has invested in this property since it  was purchased.  
  7. If the developer can work with a partially demolished building to create a unique development then  why would they pay the additional cost for full demolition?  
  8. Developers who do not like what has not been demolished can, at their cost, demolish the rest and not  at the taxpayers’ cost.  
  9. Why would the taxpayer cover the cost of full demolition when partial demolition and repair solve the  safety and access issues?  
  10. Maintaining a few bays intact implies development of these bays to make them water tight, insulated  and conditioned for an unknown use plus the annual cost to operate it. Does the taxpayer know what  this cost is?  

Determine what components require repair to make the building and site safe, usable and attractive.  

  1. Roof asphalt membrane  
  2. Roof deck  
  3. Roof steel structure  
  4. Steel columns supporting roof structure  
  5. Concrete walls supporting roof structure  
  6. Annex brick cladding  
  7. Concrete floor    

Determine the itemized cost to demolish or repair components that require repair and maintenance to make  the building and site safe, usable and attractive.  

  1. Roof asphalt membrane – demolish since it has to be removed to be repaired  
  2. Roof deck – demolish since it has to be removed to be repaired  
  3. Roof steel structure – it can be cleaned and protected with Galvafroid coating but with scrap value it  may be more economical to demolish with some sections remaining to indicate profile of roof  
  4. Steel columns supporting roof structure – it can be cleaned and protected with Galvafroid coating but if  the roof is removed they serve no function except to support the sections of the  remaining roof  structure to indicate profile of roof
  5. Concrete walls supporting roof structure – This portion of the building has great heritage value and the  reinforced concrete embedded into steel columns is difficult and expensive to demolish with minimal  scrap value. Demolition would be more expensive than the cost to, retain and clean the concrete and  steel, cap the top of the concrete with roofing membrane to make water tight and protect steel with  Galvafroid coating.
  6. Annex – This portion of the building has less heritage value than the original concrete wall portion. The  steel structure supporting this brick faced addition consists of structural steel sections that have great  reclaimed steel value. Because of the value of the steel and the fact that brick is simpler to demolish  than concrete, it is be more economical to demolish this entire structure than to retain it.  
  7. Concrete floor – has various thickness and has reinforcement around the rails to support the  locomotives and other uses of the building have added deep footings to support equipment.  Demolition would be more expensive than the cost to, retain and clean the concrete.  
  8. Concrete foundations – are very deep in the west end of the building. Removal would more expensive  than the cost to retain and cap with concrete.    

Conclusion – Save the taxpayers’ money. Only demolish components that are more expensive to repair and  maintain to make the building and site safe, usable and attractive. Spending any more would not be good  stewardship of the taxpayers’ dollar.

Presentation to Council (April 27, 2015)

The Future of the Stratford Railway Shops    

Thank you for the opportunity to speak. 

I hope all of you had the opportunity to read the email I sent to the mayor over the weekend. Before I sent it I  took a close look at Dean Robinson’s book Railway Stratford.    

After I sent the email I found and read Chris Borgal’s report on this structure. I do not know how many of you  have read it, but it is definitely worth reading again before any decision to demolish all or part of this building is  made.    

The point I want to make is any decision made about this building should not consider what it is, but what it  could be.    

This building as it stands is the story of Stratford as told by Dean Robinson in his book, Railway Stratford, from  which the images behind me are taken from.      

Let’s look back to when the Shops were closed. Locomotives that were not scraped were given to various  communities to commemorate the railway activities that took place in those cities, Guelph, London,  Palmerston, Fort Erie and many others but not . . . Stratford.    

Now, let’s look into the future, after this Council has voted to demolish the building in its entirety. A blue  heritage plaque will be erected with the following inscription, “On this site once stood what was considered  the most important factor in the early development of Stratford, the railways not only fostered growth of key  industries, such as agriculture, farm implements, furniture manufacturing and iron works, but also, with much  of the local population being employed by the railways, they were instrumental in the economic and cultural  maturity of this southwestern Ontario town.”    

Is that how we remember and reflect on the lives of the people shown on the slides?  The people that shaped  this City into what it is today, the City with people who believe they can do anything they imagine, if they are  given the challenge and set their minds to it. The challenge to repair these great machines called locomotives;  we were at the leading edge of transportation technology in the day. If it broke, we could fix it, whatever it  was. They had ingenuity. Where do you think we get our ingenuity? It comes from the Shops, it’s in Stratford’s  DNA.    

Is the best way to commemorate the significance of this building, the lives of the citizens and the development  and economy of Stratford in the past with a plaque and a book? We can do more . . . we’re Stratford!    

We don’t have a locomotive but we have something better, the building where those locomotives were  repaired and refurbished, The Stratford Railway Shops.      

Tonight Council could vote on a future that respects and commemorates the past and the people of Stratford.    

Should Council choose to demolish, leaving the concrete floor and the intact portions of the concrete walls of  the building in place, can save the greatest cost of the demolition. With the all the walls in place along with a  few sections of roof framing, the massive three dimensional scale of the structure is retained. Cutting out the  spandrel panel below the lower window sills to the floor would create a colonnade effect, our Parthenon, with  the columns illuminated in the evening.  In addition to increasing the property value of the neighbourhood  south of St. David Street, the openings through the walls would allow people from this area to see and walk  through the site to downtown. With the reduced cost of demolition the funds required for restitution of the  site are available so it can be used as an urban park until the day when one or more entity develops all or parts  of the site over time.    

What do we do with it in the mean time? We could follow the lead of visionary R. Thomas Orr in the  development of Shakespeare gardens. There, after he acquired species of plants that were in the  Shakespearean plays, developed a garden on the ruins of a woolen mill site with a chimney that was easier and  less costly to keep up than to tear down. A site that is now a tourist attraction with the bird house chimney  now part of the City’s corporate logo.    

On this site, maybe the plants are us, the people of Stratford both past and present in picture form. Maybe, the  walls become the display panels for the pictures that remind us and tell our visitors of what we were and what  we are all about?  Maybe it becomes an outdoor gallery of photographs displayed on the walls from Dean’s  book as well as the great library of photos taken by the newspaper photographers such as Lloyd Dark and Scott  Wishhart over the years. This is just an idea. But who knows, maybe it or another idea for this site may also be  a tourist attraction.    

Tearing the building down in its entirety would be like burning the family photo album, because all that would  be left are just the memories.    

I suggest that Council consider appointing a commission of both Councillors and citizens at large to manage the  commemoration and use of this building as part of a master plan for the development of the entire site.    

So let’s at least keep the walls up, because if the walls could talk, and these walls still can, you have the  opportunity to tell the great story of Stratford for generations to come.  

Thank you.