Halifax architectural 'treasure' to undergo $580K interior renovation

The budget to renovate the inside of the elegant Power House, across from the Public Gardens, has already increased from an initial $330,000. The restoration of the exterior cost $1.7 million.

Power House, or Public Gardens cottage, already received $1.7M for exterior restoration

The Power House, which once served as the home of the superintendent of the Public Gardens, has been stripped to its studs inside in preparation for the renovations. (CBC)

A historic Halifax building that received a costly exterior restoration a few years ago will now undergo a complete interior renovation.

The Power House, at the corner of Sackville Street and Bell Road, was built in 1903 and originally served as the home of the longtime superintendent of the Public Gardens, Richard Power.

The brick building, with its rounded windows and gleaming copper, is now arguably one of the most striking historic buildings in the city. But time — and lack of maintenance — had taken its toll before the exterior was restored.

A 2014 city staff report listed it as being in the worst condition of all buildings owned by the municipality in 2013.

When crews tackled the exterior work beginning in 2014, they found rotten wood, mould, asbestos and a beetle infestation. The basement floor even gave out partway through the project.

In all, the restoration — including repairs to the brick cladding, roof, metal work, basement, wood framing and stairs, as well as architectural and engineering fees — cost $1.7 million, said John MacPherson, the municipality's manager of corporate facility design and construction.

Interior work to be completed by fall

Although the city initially earmarked $330,000 for the interior renovations in the 2017-18 budget, the work wasn't done and the budget has now increased to $580,000.

"As the design progressed and we were able to detail the cost better, that is the current cost estimate that we're working from," said MacPherson.

The city issued a tender for the interior work last week. The renovations, expected to be completed by this fall, will include new drywall, flooring, fittings and furniture.

The Power House underwent an extensive exterior restoration beginning in 2014. (CBC)

Since the inside has been stripped down to its studs in preparation for the work, MacPherson said the cost should be close to the budgeted amount.

"There's not a lot of, you know, things hidden that could come up to show problems, so we're pretty confident in the numbers that we get."

MacPherson said the interior finishings were "pretty run down."

"The intent was not to try to salvage what was there, but to revitalize it and make it more efficient, usable, multifunction space."

Building to house municipal youth program

Once the work is done, the building will be used for office and programming space for Youth Live, a municipally run skills development program for youth.

Over the years, the structure has housed a tourist bureau, a tea room, city staff offices and space for the Friends of the Public Gardens. It has been closed since 2013.

Judith Cabrita, the chairperson of the Friends of the Public Gardens, said she hoped the building — which she called an "architectural delight and treasure" — would be used at least in part for an interpretation centre about the Victorian era, including about the Public Gardens across the street. 

"There's a lot of money been put into that building and we really feel that … now because of all the public money that is in there, it should be open to the public," she said.

Since the municipality is still in the process of developing a master plan for the Halifax Common, which includes the land the Power House is on, Cabrita said she feels "it's a bit premature taking the Richard Power house out of circulation."

But Cabrita said she's confident the city will do an "excellent job" with the interior renovations.

"It's a building that the city can be very, very proud of. They've done an absolute fabulous job."

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Frances Willick

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Frances Willick has worked as a radio, print and digital reporter. Please contact her with story ideas or tips at frances.willick@cbc.ca