No decisions have been made regarding the fate of the old St. Vital Church in Battleford, despite some differences in opinion.
On July 26, the Town issued a public notice regarding the de-designation of the church as a municipal heritage property. The notice read the Town of Battleford is considering de-designation, and a notice ran in the July 26 issue of the Regional Optimist.
A sentence in the notice read “the reason for the de-designation is due to the dilapidated state and future demolition of the building.”
A public hearing regarding the matter was scheduled for the Sept. 4 council meeting. No one apart from the usual attendees (councillors, administration, media and town staff) were at the meeting, but the Town received two written submissions arguing against the church’s de-designation.
One letter was signed by Carrolynn and Patrick Pernitsky and another by Dave Gubbe. Pernitsky’s letter argued the building is of historic significance to the town and province.
“Our community has to this point in history taken pride in our historic buildings, more so than many other communities, and we feel it is important to recognize our history and keep these buildings for future reference and education.”
Gubbe wrote the church is not in good condition, but de-designating the property’s heritage status would be a mistake, and the church “serves as a physical representation of the community’s history in a way that a commemorative plaque never would.”
Gubbe also mentioned the historical significance of Battleford, adding the concentration of historic buildings and sites in the area offer “the nucleus for a very substantial historical venue should someone ever get it all put together.”
“This has very positive potential for the town in the future, aside from the responsibility to preserve our communal history/heritage.”
The general process of town council decisions involves administration making recommendations to council, and council agreeing with, altering or disagreeing with recommendations.
“Administration is recommending that [the church] be taken down because of the overall state of the building and the cost of repairs,” Mayor Ames Leslie told the News-Optimist.
At the Sept. 4 council meeting, Town Chief Administrative Officer John Enns-Wind said administration didn’t dispute the building’s historical significance. Enns-Wind said the church “shows obvious signs of years of neglect,” and listed the things that were wrong with the building, including water infiltration and damage, walls starting to become like an accordion in which they’re “buckling outwards” and a damaged balcony.
According to a preliminary estimate from a contractor, fixing the building would cost at least $800,000, Enns-Wind said, and likely more.
Illicit activity around the church is also a concern for town decision-makers.
Leslie said the church has been broken into a few times and there was vandalism a few months ago. There is also the potential risk of the church burning down.
Next steps toward a decision, Enns-Wind said, include writing to those who wrote letters against de-designating the property and meeting with them. Enns-Wind said a meeting would include representatives from local historical organizations.
“At that time if [the letter writers] still object, then council can either not de-designate it, or we could go to a mediation board, which is chaired by the Heritage Conservation Branch in Regina,” Enns-Wind said.
The matter of the old church was reported on by the News-Optimistin June along with other budget stories. The 2018 budget designated $35,000 for the church’s demolition. At the time, councillors said such a decision wasn’t certain at that point, and the money could be used elsewhere.
Leslie said council could have pushed the decision through if they wanted to at the Sept. 4 meeting, but “council still hasn’t officially made a decision as to what they’re going to go.”
“To maintain a building that is just there for historical purposes is kind of a tough decision today,” Leslie said, adding he’d like to hear from those interested in investing in the building.
“If there is anybody who truly, truly is invested in the St. Vital Church being part of our community, please come forward and talk to myself or administration.”