Will it be a case of third-time success for the City of St. Thomas? Monday evening (Sept. 18), city council accepted the $197,000 tender from Schouten Excavating of Watford to demolish the derelict Sutherland Press building that looms over the downtown core.
Schouten had been the successful bidder in 2016 when it was awarded the contract for $101,000.
It’s the third time in nearly a decade the city has attempted to level the building that dates back to 1913.
In 2008, part of the top floor overlooking Talbot Street was demolished before owner David McGee obtained a court injunction to halt proceedings.
That summer, Justice Peter Hockin overturned a ruling from Justice David Little that gave the city the green light to demolish the downtown landmark.
Then again in February of 2016, after the city approved a second demolition contract, McGee was again able to obtain an injunction before the contractor was able to proceed with tearing down the four-storey structure.
However this summer, the same Justice Hockin upheld and confirmed a pair of city work orders from 2015 and 2016. In essence, agreeing with city engineers the building was unsafe.
McGee and his lawyer Valerie M’Garry did not appeal the decision and have made no submission to the city on remediation of the building or submission of plans for its future development.
In fact, M’Garry has not returned several phone calls from this corner. And while she was in the council chamber for a public hearing on an unrelated matter prior to Monday’s council meeting, M’Garry did not remain for deliberation on the demolition tender.
Chief building official Chris Peck told members of council demolition – which will involve tearing down the building and then clearing the site – could begin “in the next week or two.”
As to whether the site will be be fully cleared in time for the official opening Oct. 28 of Veterans Memorial Garden across Moore Street, Peck indicated that may not be the case.
City manager Wendell Graves indicated once the structure is down to an acceptable height, the adjacent transit centre will re-open. However Moore Street will remain closed “for some time.”
As to why the latest demolition contract is nearly double the price of Schouten’s 2016 submission, Graves responded, “We’re not sure, it has been a year and a half.”
He added, “One thing we did hear from the contractor who had bid before was certainly the building had deteriorated a lot further, and so maybe they are having to re-think their methodology for taking it down.”
Cost of the demolition will be applied to the property tax to be collected as a priority lien.