Holy headache over church reno

Redevelopment plans mired in planning problems

Asbury and West United Church is praying for pennies from heaven as the nearly 200-year-old institution struggles with renovation costs.

The congregation, which has temporarily moved to Northminster United Church in North York, first realized around 2004 that the site’s main structure, built in 1958, was falling into disrepair, said the chair of the church’s architecture committee, Pauline McKenzie.

“We knew we needed to renew our building,” she said. “Parts of it were very old and crumbling, the 1958 building no longer met our needs.”

The Bathurst Street institution planned on selling part of its land to a developer in order to finance renewal of the church. In 2010, the city’s community planning department recommended council refuse a zoning application for a 13-storey building fronting Bathurst Street.

However, council overruled the recommendation and approved the application, with amendments. But before the council motion is executed, Asbury and West must come to a site plan agreement with the city’s planning department.

To further complicate the project, the city deemed the 1958 building a heritage site. This means the congregation can’t tear down the current structure and build a new one, even though it would be significantly cheaper than renovating.

Asbury and West must now enter into an agreement with the city outlining how the church will maintain the heritage property. But working with the city hasn’t been easy.

“Every time we turn around somebody smacks us with a brick — a heritage brick,” said McKenzie.

“They keep sending us new versions and every new version we get has new things in it,” she said. “Our levels of frustration are quite high.”

For example, the urban design department requested a new entrance on the north side of the building, which complicated the site plan and drove costs up. They’ve also had issues with heritage staff over where garbage would be disposed and if trees would be planted.

Another unexpected expense is a fence required by the Day Nursery Act of Ontario for a daycare the congregation wants in the basement.

Including the fence, daycare and new entrance, the most recent estimate for a renovated church is $5.7 million, whereas the estimate for a brand new church was $3.6 million.

“We don’t have the money to build the daycare,” McKenzie said. “We don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Asbury and West was also hoping to install solar or geothermic heating in the new building for more efficient heating. But since the current heritage building must be retained, solar power is not an option because it sits in the shade and geothermal is too expensive.

City engineers told McKenzie that due to how the building was constructed, it can’t be insulated either.

“The walls have to be left exposed to breathe, so we’re looking at increased heating costs over the next 100 years,” McKenzie said.

The congregation is reviewing their budget and applying for grants in the hopes it will help the project see fruition.

Other renovations include making the building barrier-free, replacing the pews with moveable seating, extending the second floor to make a meeting room, removing hazardous materials such as asbestos and making the sanctuary smaller.

“We’ve always wanted to serve the community, so we’re hoping that these renovations will make the building more useful to the community,” McKenzie said.

The congregation is hoping to be back into the Bathurst Street building by Christmas 2012.

About this article:

By: Omar Mosleh
Posted: Oct 12 2011 2:51 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto