Saskatoon's former Mendel Art Gallery and Civic Conservatory are now one step closer to getting official heritage designation.

The modernist landmark along Spadina Crescent has closed its doors to the public, as crews prepare to undertake extensive renovations this fall.

They're set to overhaul the building's heating and ventilation system, repair roof panels, and remove asbestos from former gallery spaces.

On Wednesday, Saskatoon's Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee unanimously voted to preserve the building's lobby, its exterior and its donor wall.

"There's just a feel to the building that feels like you're in Saskatoon," said Hilary Gough, the city councillor for Ward 2 and a member of the committee.

Hilary Gough

Hilary Gough is the only elected council member who sits on Saskatoon's Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee. (Don Somers/CBC)

"There's no view of the river that's the same as it is out the windows of the Mendel building."

During an evaluation seven years ago, Saskatoon architect Derek Kindrachuk highlighted the building's cultural significance to Saskatoon, its site along the riverbank, and modernist attributes illustrating light, order and open space. 

Kindrachuk's firm is now overseeing renovation work inside the gallery, where the new Children's Discovery Museum will become a tenant in 2019. 

Staff at the Children's Museum say they've now raised close to $10 million in cash and in-kind donations. They've asked the city for another $2 million over the next three years.

Mendel Art Gallery ground level facing river

Brick arched windows face the South Saskatchewan River, along the Mendel Building's east side. (Don Somers/CBC)

"We're trying to honour some of the original design elements with the new stuff that's going in so it doesn't necessarily feel like a completely different building," said Amanda McReynolds Doran, the CEO of the Children's Discovery Museum.

She estimated it would take between four and five months for crews to remove asbestos from the Mendel building.

"They're removing things like some ceilings, some of the floors, so there's a lot of work that has to be done," said McReynolds Doran.

Children's Museum plans to add east-facing windows

McReynolds Doran said windows were not part of the design of the original Mendel galleries, because sunlight can damage art installations. The museum hopes to install some on the upper level to allow visitors to see the river.

Even small elements, like the original teak wood used along staircase railings, will be echoed in the cabinets and other fixtures for the Children's Museum, she said.

Amanda McReynolds Doran

Amanda McReynolds Doran is the new CEO of the PotashCorp Children's Discovery Museum. (Rosalie Woloski/CBC)

"They're sensitive to potential designation and the features that have been considered for designation," said Gough.

Gough said she expects city council would vote on the matter by the end of November.