New Westminster Gas Works roof collapse prompts questions about its future

The collapse of the roof on a 130-year-old building in New Westminster during a windstorm last week is prompting questions about the future of the historic structure.

Soil contamination on the site has complicated talks between the city and the province

This photo from @NewWestGuests on Twitter shows firefighters assessing the collapsed roof of the 1886 Gas Works building. (@NewWestGuests)

The collapse of the roof on a 130-year-old building in New Westminster during a windstorm last week is renewing questions about the future of the historic structure. 

New Westminster's Gas Works building on the corner of 12th Street and Third Avenue was built in 1886 to manufacture coal gas to light city streets, according to a 2009 report on the City of New Westminster's website.

On Sunday, part of the building's roof collapsed, prompting questions from the city about what to do with it. The province owns the building, and it has been vacant for about 20 years. 

"Anytime you see something like this, it does highlight the importance of some of the old buildings that we have in our community," said Jonathan Coté, the city's mayor.

In 2009, after discussions with the province about receiving the land for free, the city proposed turning the building into a community hubBut those plans never went through. 

"The big hold-up has been the contamination on the site and figuring out who is responsible for what," said Coté. "Unfortunately, it's a very contaminated site and it would call for a complex remediation program."

Renewed hope for preservation

The province says it last spoke with the city 18 months ago about transferring the site, and discussions are ongoing. Now that the old building is back in the news, there is hope is that the discussion can pick up again.

New Westminster Community Heritage Commission chair Jaimie McEvoy says many uses for the city's Gas Works building have been considered. (CBC)

"People want to get together and start working to preserve this building," said New Westminster Community Heritage Commission Chair Jaimie McEvoy.  

"People are getting in touch with me — general citizens and the heritage community — and a lot of it is, 'What are we going to do?'"

McEvoy says ideas for the site's redevelopment have included turning it into a community garden, a coffee shop or a day care. 

He says even in its current state, there's something special about standing inside the four walls of the Gas Works building.

"You just have this feeling that you're standing in history," he said.

McEvoy says when he looks at the property, he doesn't see crumbling bricks and rubble — he sees something meaningful and worth saving.


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