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Cameron House caught up in debate over heritage restoration

Cameron House has seen better days.
April 28, 2015 - 10:44 AM

KELOWNA - The future of Cameron House, the iconic log structure that sits in the middle of the Richter Street park that bears its name, is still in limbo.

This week city councillors wrestled at length with the issue of whether the house, built in 1929 using log-and-chink construction, has signficant heritage value and is worth saving or is just a money pit and should be torn down.

However, the debate amongst councillors also touched on the larger issue of using limited tax dollars to preserve historic structures that are inherently expensive to restore and maintain.

“I feel like we’re riding two horses here and if we’re not careful, we’re going to get thrown off both of them,” Coun. Charlie Hodge said, referring to the duality of the debate.

The debate was triggered during 2015 budget deliberations when a capital request for $200,000 (on top of $350,000 already set aside) for structural repairs was deferred so councillors could attend a heritage workshop. The workshop will hopefully give councillors a better understanding of what heritage means and an awareness of the costs involved.

Parks and buildings manager Terry Barton delivered a report to council outlining the history of the building, it’s heritage value and its current condition. The rare log house was constructed by a prominent local family, Alister Cameron and his family, and now has a failing foundation with significant renovations required throughout.

“Old building restoration is always difficult and we know from the Family Y experience that restoration projects aren’t to be treated lightly,” Barton said.

Barton’s report also touched on a possible future for the building once restored as either a daycare or preschool, a home for an artist-in-residence program, a restaurant or as office space for a non-profit charity, which would bring in revenue of $18,000 to $20,000 a year.

What the report doesn’t touch on is the cost of restoring a hand-built log structure to the level required by the B.C. Building Code and Barton told council that dollar figure won’t be available until 2016.

“We’re not prepared to provide a full budget at this point. There are too many risks and unknowns,” he said.

While some councillors were clearly more inclined to save the structure than others, it soon became clear that the over-arching philosophy of saving Kelowna’s heritage structures — it has 19 listed — is in need of some renovation itself.

City manager Ron Mattiussi, perhaps summed up best what was on councillors minds when he pointed out Kelowna doesn’t have the taxation dollars even to fully preserve the top three on the list.

In the end, councillors agreed to remove the $200,000 capital request from the 2015 budget, while leaving in place the original $350,000 so staff could complete the planning work on Cameron House.

To contact the reporter for this story, email John McDonald at jmcdonald@infonews.ca or call 250-808-0143. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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