In the race to get 1245 Edward Street designated as a heritage property before Dalhousie tears it down, asbestos is winning.
On Thursday, July 14, Dalhousie University received a demolition permit for 1245 Edward Street, a house it bought last year that dates back to the 1890s. Dal had already begun demolitions, and last week received a violation notice from the city for starting to take down the house without a permit, which it ignored. After a stop work order from the city and a visit from the province’s occupational health and safety board, Dalhousie paused demolition on Tuesday, only to receive the required permit Thursday. That’s a full day before the Heritage Advisory Committee holds a special meeting Friday, July 15 to decide the fate of the house.
With the demolition notice in hand, you’d think Dalhousie would want to take a wrecking ball to the house before the city saves it with a heritage designation recommendation tomorrow. But it can’t. Enter asbestos.
Dalhousie told the CBC that the work it was doing on the house wasn’t demolition without a permit, as it was just preparing the property for hazardous material removal. Signs on the house say that the hazardous material is asbestos. And the process of removing asbestos is extensive, and includes an elaborate air filtration system. The abatement could take days or weeks—even if the house had power, which it doesn’t , workers at the site told The Coast on Thursday. The filtration system needs electricity, so work has to wait until NS Power restores it to the house, which could also take days.
So it’s safe to say that 1245 Edward Street will still be standing when the Heritage Advisory Committee meets at 1pm Friday. If the committee gives the house a score over 50 (based on factors like age, architectural merit and historical significance), it’ll be protected from demolition for 90 days, during which time regional council will hold a hearing to decide whether to give it heritage property designation. If that happens, 1245 Edward Street won’t be able to be demolished for at least three years.
Signs point to the committee giving the house a good score—the staff report the committee will be reviewing during the meeting recommends a score between 53 and 72 points. “This architectural form is a very rare example of a transition between two popular Victorian styles, Second Empire and Queen Anne Revival,” the report reads, along with, “1245 Edward Street is intimately related with important personages of local importance, including William McCullough Boak and Rudolph Alexander Hobrecker.”
Additionally, at the regular regional council meeting on Tuesday, councillor Waye Mason put forward a motion to schedule a heritage hearing ahead of the committee’s verdict. “This isn’t my first rodeo when it comes to trying to save a heritage building, so speed is of the essence,” he says. That motion passed.
The heritage application was submitted by a group of local residents led by Peggy Walt, who also started a petition to save 1245 Edward Street that has collected almost 6,000 signatures, and led a rally outside the house in May.
“There are a number of processes underway with HRM and we are currently assessing how those processes impact our work,” says a representative from Dalhousie in an email to The Coast. We asked Dalhousie how long the asbestos abatement is projected to take, and whether the university will be represented at Friday’s heritage meeting. It has not responded.