Town asks for more time on Grand Falls house decision

Report says property cleanup will cost about $500 thousand

Andrea Gunn agunn@live.ca
Published on February 27, 2014

The Grand Falls House is a mansion located on a large property on Lincoln Road. It was built over a century ago for Lord and Lady Northcliffe and has had plenty of distinguished guests throughout the years. The property was expropriated after the closure of the mill in 2009.

Andrea Gunn photo

The Town of Grand Falls-Windsor wants more time to decide whether it wants to take over the 100-year-old Grand Falls House.

Last year the town expressed interest in assuming responsibility of the historical property, located on Lincoln Road, which includes the Tudor-style mansion and the Mill Manger's House. They were initially given a deadline of the end of February to make a decision.

Because of the age of the property and its buildings, Mayor Al Hawkins said the cost of maintenance means the provincial government is looking to get rid of its responsibility sooner rather than later.

“They're looking at opportunities, and we as a town don’t want it (house) to go to the private sector. We'd like to control that property,” he said.

The town’s request for an extension is partly due to an assessment report from a private engineering company the town hired to figure the cost of removing hazardous waste, which could include things like asbestos and lead paint, on the property. The numbers for the report, which the town got back just weeks ago, were released at Tuesday night’s council meeting.

According to the report, it will cost $323,000 plus HST for the work to remove hazardous material from Grand Falls House and $143,000 plus HST for the adjacent Mill Manager's house. This does not include the costs of restoration to replace the material.

Another report on outside hazardous materials, such as oil, will be completed in the spring

In light of these numbers, Hawkins said it's important the town does due diligence in making sure they have a complete picture of the price of liabilities associated with the propriety before making a decision.

“Obviously it's in the best interest of whoever takes it over that it would be remediated to the point that any materials would be removed, because right now it's a liability,” Hawkins said. “We have to explore all the options before we take on that liability.

“We've asked the province for a extension on that February time frame because we were in the process of getting that study done and getting some costs that would be associated to the hazards. Once we get all that we'll put together a report and then we'll go back to the province.”

Hawkins said when the town is ready to go to the table with the province to talk about acquisition of the property, part of their request will be that the province cleans up the property so there will be no remediation cost for the town.

Hawkins said while the buildings seem to be in good shape, he's not surprised with the $500,000 price tag on the cleanup.

“All of council went through the building just before Christmas. Structurally it seemed sound but, obviously, we knew the building was 100 years old.”

While the town is preparing a presentation for the province, they are also collecting ideas on how to use the property for if they take it over.

Last week, committee as a whole met with local businesspeople Barry and Peggy Bartlett for a brainstorming session to examine the logistics behind possible uses.

“What we’re trying to do is get the community engaged in looking at some opportunities for the Grand Falls House. It’s not something we feel as a town that we have the expertise to look at. We wanted to get the perspective on how we could probably put together some sort of a business plan to justify the utilization of the house.”

Hawkins said the Bartletts, who are well known entrepreneurs in the region, are helping with the business sense side of the equation. He added Peggy is liaising with the local historical society on their input.

Right now, Hawkins said, the only real idea they have is to make the property into some sort of heritage site or tourist attraction, but they're open to other ideas.

“We want to use that property so that whatever its being used for is going to make business sense. We don’t want to be sinking hundreds of thousands into that property year after year,” Hawkins said. “We don’t necessarily want to look at making money, we want to be in a position where we are able to break even and recoup some of the maintenance costs.”

Hawkins said the town encourages anyone with input to get in touch with the council.

In the meantime, Hawkins said the town will continue to plug away at its proposal with hopes to be able to make a decision as soon as possible, after weighing all pros and cons.

“Once we get to the point now where we can have another discussion with government and see where their position is, then we can move forward.”