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Friday, July 25, 2014

Khyber may go up for sale

City recommends selling off the decaying arts centre

Posted By on Fri, Jul 25, 2014 at 4:06 PM

Thanks for the memories, bud.
  • Thanks for the memories, bud.

After 126 years on Barrington, the Khyber Centre for the Arts building could be at its end. City staff is recommending Halifax Regional Council declare 1588 Barrington St. surplus and put it up for sale.

Officials assessing the Victoria-era building listed poor conditions and hazardous materials (including a failing floor system and asbestos in the walls). They estimate it will cost $33,000 a year just to maintain, and an additional $4.15 million in repairs.

The recommendation came as a surprise to district councillor Waye Mason, who's been working to try and save the structure.

"It's especially frustrating," says Mason, noting that Administrative Order 50 is supposed to inform councillors about the proposed surplus properties so that they can then gauge public interest with residents (something which didn't happen in this case)

"I don't feel like this is fair to the arts community," Mason says.

Mason, who fought for an expert heritage architect to help assess the property, says the cost of the renovations needed was a surprise even to him. That being said, he's still convinced other options are available.

"I feel like it's a real lack of imagination for us to go right to a sale," he adds, though noting that the cost to keep the building could end up being a burden to the very arts groups it's supposed to house.

"The flip side, and this is the hard side, is if the city actually renovated the building for $3 or $4 million, the cost of keeping the building open over twenty years would be more than all of the money we give all the other arts groups put together."

Back in the spring, the Khyber Arts Society and Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia (the building's two tenants) were "temporarily" evicted due to safety concerns. The construction on a Starfish Properties building next door was potentially disrupting asbestos in the Khyber Centre walls.

That weekend's Upstream Music Open Waters Festival was quickly rescheduled and new venues found for all planned events. The Khyber Arts Society eventually relocated, temporarily they assumed, to 5523 Cornwallis St.

Khyber Board Chair Andrew McLaren told The Coast at the time that he was surprised for the removal as assessments had only found traces of asbestos in one of every 31 samples collected.

The $1.35 million Khyber Centre for the Arts was originally built for the Church of England Institute in 1888. The city had previously designated the Khyber as a Cultural Incubator in 2010, and a key part of its five-year cultural strategy.

If the building does go up for sale, it's unlikely to be completely torn down. Any potential buyers will have to develop the site within provincial heritage property guidelines.

Eighteen properties, with a total assessed value of more than $11 million, will be looked at by Council on Tuesday before any sales go forward.

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