The fate of the Public Safety Building (PSB) creeps along.
It silently passed through the Executive Policy Committee Meeting on Apr. 20, prompting no discussion. Listed as the 13th item in the report from the Standing Policy Committee on Property and Development, Heritage, and Downtown Development, it now moves to Council today, Wed. Apr. 27.
Apr. 12 was the day Standing Policy Committee on Property and Development, Heritage and Downtown Development received more information about the historical elements of the PSB. That day, councillors referenced the existence of a multi-page heritage document concerning the PSB.
John Kiernan, Director for the Planning, Property and Development Department mentioned the office of the Police Chief as an additional heritage element, but overall the meeting was hardly a debate about the PSB’s historic and architectural merits, in further consideration of its potential nomination to the list of historic resources.
As well, the PSB’s role to provide “great opportunity for positive change in the area, while redefining an icon with associated stigma,” as described in the Deloitte report, did not merit a word of discussion.
The Deloitte report, the recommendations of which were accepted by the Committee and discussed in meetings prior, states, “The Historical Buildings and Resources Committee has proposed that ‘Character Defining Elements’ would be worthy of protection (if the building had been nominated to be listed as an Historical Resource). These elements included the building exterior, main floor lobby, and some office ceilings above the fifth floor.”
This information was listed under a section entitled, ‘Evaluation for Heritage Listing for Information Only’. Regarding the PSB’s heritage concerns, the report concluded: “In general, demolition is not a sustainable approach to deal with heritage buildings.”
Experts criticize city’s approach to PSB as short-sighted
The first of three speakers to voice concerns to the Committee on Apr. 12 was Susan Algie of the Winnipeg Architecture Foundation.
Algie said the building’s heritage evaluation has no official status since the historic building was not nominated to the list. Although the Deloitte report says the Historical Buildings and Resources Committee has proposed the PSB worthy of protection, without a move for nomination by the building’s owner (the city), these protections are absent.
“To not evaluate as prominent and significant a building as the PSB is very disappointing and short-sighted,” said Algie.
City Councillor John Orlikow asked Algie about an historic modernist precinct for the City Hall area that was in the news in 2011. He asked where this movement might have fallen.
Algie said there is strong momentum and interest for this to occur, especially with recognition of City Hall as a designated heritage structure and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre now a National Historic Site, along with interest expressed by the Centennial Corporation for the Centennial Concert Hall.
Algie said conference visitors to Winnipeg often express great interest in the nationally unique situation of a modernist quarter next to the heritage quarter of the Exchange District National Historic Site.
A second delegate, Cindy Tugwell, Heritage Winnipeg Executive Director, agreed with Algie’s plea to list the building.
Tugwell was concerned about waste management in the potential demolition of the PSB, and estimated, when recalling the Eaton’s Building demolition, that one-third of demolition waste went into landfill.
“I can’t possibly understand why you would demolish a perfectly good building and build another one, especially a building with historic value,” said Tugwell, in reference to Option C of the report.
Both delegates were questioned regarding costs to repair or replace the PSB’s crumbling limestone facade, which according to Orlikow was not included in the report but was described within it as cost prohibitive.
Tugwell reported an industry sourced figure for facade repair at $8.7 million, which she said was “in line” with the $10 million re-cladding of the Workers Compensation Board building.
The entire PSB retrofit cost is estimated in the Deloitte report to be $66.9 million, not including facade repair costs.
“I don’t want to delude anyone here,” said City Councillor Genny Gerbasi, Chair of the Historical Buildings and Resources Committee and a member of the Standing Committee on Property and Development, Heritage and Downtown Development.
“We have the analysis. It is a heritage building – agreed … demolition would be a huge loss. If it happens, we are losing a historical resource,” she said.
Gerbasi also said she didn’t know where the money would come from for a PSB retrofit and said use of the land would be “wonderful” for the area.
Both Orlikow and Gerbasi said Winnipeg has many important heritage buildings that require funds from the city’s limited pool of finances.
City fails to nominate PSB as historic resource
Councillor Matt Allard wondered if the city holds a double standard when it comes to privately owned buildings versus city ownership in light of heritage issues raised by the PSB.
At present, the city owns the Public Safety Building. The City of Winnipeg has not not nominated it for inclusion on the list of historic resources, despite clear and sufficient evidence of its architectural and historical value – even after a second meeting took place purported to focus on this issue.
Yet, the city nominates privately owned buildings for inclusion on the Historical Resources List if they are thought to be historic. Owners may also oppose the nomination if they choose, as well as apply for their buildings to get on the list with its resulting protections.
But the newly amended heritage bylaw seems to have a built in escape route when the developmental pressure in on. Decision makers may consider the economic viability of “conserving the resource” alongside its heritage and architectural value. According to the amended bylaw, this viability includes “the merits of alternative proposals for the resource or the site on which it is located, other than conserving the resource by adding it to the List,” as well as repair costs and upkeep, among other things.
Demolition by neglect
Councillor Russ Wyatt described the PSB situation as demolition by neglect. For years the characteristic and uniquely detailed limestone facade has been in need of repair.
To date, a canopy-like structure built in sympathetic rhythm to the PSB’s facade stands near its walls to protect pedestrians in case of falling limestone. Metal bands fasten limestone panels on some parts of the facade.
The repair cost to the facade is estimated by Kiernan to be $7 million and up, and appears to be seen by the committee as a stopping point in the PSB’s reuse. The amended heritage bylaw addresses demolition by neglect through special authority by the city to order repairs but only if a building is nominated or listed as a historic resource, and if the structure will soon become beyond repair.
The City of Winnipeg is a proponent of heritage conservation. Multiple pages of inspiring words compile Winnipeg’s Heritage Management Plan.
A forcefully written key directive guiding Winnipeg land use states, “Provide leadership in heritage conservation that links to broader civic goals of economic development, sustainability and neighbourhood planning.” These word are within the Sustainable Communities section of OurWinnipeg plan.
PSB analysis falls short
A third, highly eloquent speaker sat down to the Committee Table on Apr. 12 to voice concerns to the group.
“The City has never considered this: the greenest building is the one you have, the one you own,” said Les Stechesen, who admitted to pulling himself from a sick bed with a case of the flu to share his expertise with the committee.
Stechesen is the architect who designed the PSB, a building that upon completion was nominated for the Massey Award, the highest honour for architecture in Canada.
Stechesen described the PSB’s Brutalist architecture as “a reaction to the soullessness and faithlessness of the glass structures of the 1950’s.” He described the $275,000 Deloitte report as “complicated” yet “decisive” in its presentation.
Stechesen explained how the cost of developing any building includes a hidden element called “embodied energy”. This is the energy used at every step of the building’s life.
These steps include the extraction of raw materials, material fabrications, delivery, building construction, energy use during the building’s lifetime, structural additions, installations, and more – including end stage considerations like demolition.
Embodied energy produces carbon emissions all along the production chain which add to greenhouse gasses and global warming. They are scientifically calculated from beginning to end of the life of a building and Stechesen said none of this was considered in the PSB analysis.
Also not included in the study was the dollar value of demolition which, said Stechesen in conversation afterwards, could “easily come to a million dollars.”
Embodied energy is unseen and often misunderstood when thinking about many things, especially buildings. Its calculation is an emerging methodology called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). It is said to be the only method to most genuinely assess the real replacement cost of a building.
What is most surprising when it comes to buildings is that embodied energy within the standing structure itself – the energy “built” into the materials – is many times the amount of the operational energy used in a building’s lifetime. In past, the opposite was thought to be true. Efficiency efforts thus focused upon the energy a building consumed during its use, especially in regards to the workings of the building’s envelope.
With building demolition, a profound amount of energy is used with corresponding emissions. A great deal of “embodied energy” already spent in the cascade phases of construction (with associated emissions already added to climate change) – is simply wasted when much of the construction materials go into landfill.
Landfill servicing in turn adds further to greenhouse gas emissions. Large public infrastructure projects – both demolition and construction – represent a significant amount of the solid waste stream in Canada.
This is just part of the sustainability equation for buildings. OurWinnipeg was mandated with a view of Winnipeg entering into a period of growth.
Considering the PSB, any new use for it will have removed the need for use of a building within Winnipeg’s building supply. Utilization of the PSB, somewhere down the line, would have also decreased pressure for new construction.
Stechesen described how many of Winnipeg’s modernist buildings, including the Centennial Concert Hall, the Art Gallery, and the Manulife Building and others – had their entire facades repaired or replaced, sometimes with award winning results as with the Workers Compensation Board renovation.
The Public Safety Building was originally part of a plan by the previous Katz administration to be sold upon completion of the move by the Winnipeg Police into the Graham Avenue location that is due in July.
In a 2013 Winnipeg Sun article, Katz said the PSB has great potential. “If you were to use that for anything but a police station, it’s extremely solid. When you build a police station, it has to be bullet proof,” Katz said. “It’s a little different than most buildings, so things can be done very differently for a lot less money.”
Katz touted the long-time civic campus idea that would see centralized services with use of the PSB. Stechesen said the PSB is a steel building with a concrete foundation.
Environmental savings of building reuse versus dangers of demolition
A 2011 study, The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse by Preservation Green Lab National Trust for Historic Preservation, concluded that building reuse almost always offers environmental savings over new construction. The study estimates it takes between 10 to 80 years for even energy efficient buildings to overcome their contribution to climate change during construction.
While the days of the neighbourhood folks watching a building’s demolition from a distance away may perhaps evoke sentimental memories of family fun, waste management studies describe a scarier picture of such a scene.
Construction, renovation and demolition (CRD) waste is an area of growing concern and new studies show this waste contains a wide array of “Substances of Interest” (SOI) that are identified under the Canadian Health Act as risky.
SOI’s are found in many materials including adhesives, sealants, coatings, wood preservatives, flame retardants, surface materials, and more. Along the route from demolition site to landfill are “release pathways” into soil, water and air. These concepts are just beginning to be investigated and understood and best practices are starting to be developed.
In a report, Characterization and Management of Construction, Renovation and Demolition Waste in Canada Foundation Document – Final Report to Environment Canada for Environment Canada, March 2015, many recommendations were made to better deal with CRD waste.
Most chillingly, it called for further work to assess the dangers CRD waste poses to human health and the environment, and to find ways to reduce risk. Among many recommendations is compilation of provincially designated substance surveys to assess material before construction or demolition.
On Apr. 12, members of the Standing Committee on Property and Development, Heritage and Downtown Development continued in their commitment to demolish both the PSB and the Civic Centre Parkade (Option A – Large Public Space and Private Development, Deloitte Report).
They drafted a newly added instruction that it be “subject to a public engagement, and upon completion of the public engagement, the Winnipeg Public Service report back to Council for approval.”
The implementation plan for all this was continued. Added here as well was instruction for the public service to report back to Council for approval.
“Option A is most flexible,” said Kiernan. “It allows for alternatives,” such as bids for the development of the property.
(Option B included demolition of existing buildings with construction of a ground floor office space parkade and a large public space development. Option C specified a smaller, similar parkade and the construction of an office building and public space development).
In other words, option A can equal option B or C, depending.
Councillor Allard asked if the Winnipeg Parking Authority, for whom the report identified as users of the office space, had looked at the plan. Kiernan replied the WPA has seen the plans and would come forward if they had a business case to do so.
Councillor Orlikow added that anyone could come forward with a plan, while Allard wondered if the city was sending the signal to others “to not bother”. More than once Councillor Allard wondered if there was any way to be “less prescriptive”. Gerbasi said choosing demolition and a large public space opens the process to providing the required guidance.
PSB demolition contrary to OurWinnipeg‘s ‘award winning’ plan
OurWinnipeg and its calls for sustainability and heritage protection won a federal and provincial planning award. In 2012 Councillor Jeff Browaty, chair of The Standing Policy Committee on Property and Development, was beaming as he spoke about the awards.
“The plan and its grassroots, collaborative approach has received continued recognition from peers in the planning community,” he said. “I’m very proud of this outstanding achievement and the awards it has earned.”
OurWinnipeg‘s preamble includes: “We act as a corporate role model for social, environmental and economic sustainability, and measure and report progress in key corporate and community sustainability areas.” A key component of the plan is to protect and make usable Winnipeg’s unique and finite heritage buildings.
Nothing could fit better into OurWinnipeg plan than the transformation of a once standard-setting, police HQ into a recycled heritage building designed in the modernism of its era to express its particular promise of a new day.
The PSB remains at present to reflect the strength of Winnipeg’s cultural development that evolved one of the finest architectural communities in Canada, and revealed the skills of one of Canada’s best architects, Les Stechesen. It concentrates people within walking distance of Winnipeg’s Civic Centre buildings, decreasing reliance on carbon emitting vehicles with its campus model.
Considering a truly green recycled PSB
With new federal monies for green initiatives and infrastructure renewal, a truly green recycled PSB could be a crowning example of sustainability.
A rooftop garden atop the PSB’s white limestone walls would reduce heat island effects produced by downtown buildings that contribute to urban discomfort as well as to dangerous global warming.
Solar panels, now available and subsidized through a new Manitoba Hydro solar energy program, along with other green energy retrofits would reduce carbon emissions, make heating cost-efficient and pay for these installations within a few short years.
Offset by heritage grants, the cladding could also be repaired.
Instead of a money pit of resource extraction (including the extraction of the heritage resource of the PSB itself), this historic and architecturally significant building would become a symbol of transformation for a sustainable future.
The once dispersed Planning, Property and Development Department, including Heritage Conservation Services, might locate within its walls to set a true example of corporate role modelling as described in OurWinnipeg.
Elizabeth Fleming of the Winnipeg Architecture Foundation agreed with Cindy Tugwell who said at the Apr. 12 meeting that education is required for an appreciation of the PSB. “It opens one’s eyes to the building, to see it differently,” said Fleming.
Some say that we are too late to turn the tide of global warming. OurWinnipeg plan doesn’t seem to think so. So shouldn’t we try to save the planet – and preserve our built heritage while we are at it?
Click on these links to read recent articles by Shirley Kowalchuk on this subject:
Councillors warned PSB demo will be costly – environmentally, financially
Decision time at City Hall over PSB’s fate
Debating the future of the PSB