GODERICH – Two of Canada’s leading experts in restoring heritage buildings say most of Goderich’s historic buildings damaged in last week’s tornado can be restored “to last into the next century.”
Architect Chris Borgal, of Goldsmith Borgal & Company Ltd. Architects, and engineer Eric Jokinen, who both specialize in the restoration of historic buildings, toured the town over the weekend, assessing the damage.
“Initially, we thought the commercial district (Courthouse Square) was destroyed, judging the photos and videos we saw,” said Borgal.
“In fact, we can salvage a large portion of it, stabilize it and put it back together. It’s up to the willingness of the people to want to put it back together.”
Borgal was brought in by the Goderich Edge Fund, set up late last week to accept donations to help pay for the restoration heritage buildings, including buildings in Courthouse Square.
The fund was established by an initial donation of $100,000 by former Seaforth resident Mary McCall and her husband John McBain, who now live in Geneva, Switzerland.
They are donating $100,000 to an approved organization, along with “an additional amount of leverage funds, up to $200,000, to be matched by cash, not in kind, donations, to enable a minimum total of $500,000 to be raised specifically in support of heritage retention and restoration for the ‘built’ and ‘natural’ environment of the community.”
In fact, that initial goal has already been reached, said Paul Carroll, a former town councilor and heritage enthusiast who has spent the last week pulling together a committee.
Other fundraising projects to repair damage to the heritage buildings and trees are also underway
Carroll said the fund would be used for the cost of restorations and repairs in excess of insurance coverage and disaster relief funds.
Borgal explained engineers often mistakenly determine an old building is beyond repair “because they may not know the old construction techniques and they will react different that what we see.”
“I just finished restoring a church in Whitby that was gutted by fire and is now back in operation,” Borgal said. He pointed to Victoria St. United Church — which lost its roof and parts of three walls — as an example of a building that could be saved, although plans are underway to demolish it this week.
Borgal said the clear priority remains to “put roofs over people’s heads and get businesses up and running,” but if people have the will, some of the more severely damaged buildings, and at least the facades — can be saved.
“It’s just so overwhelming to most people after an event like that and we just try to bring a focused approach,” said Borgal, adding its clear the town’s built and natural heritage are vital to its tourism industry.
“It’s going to take time, a lot of resources and workers. But what you don’t want is to go in and make a horrendous mistake
. . This will be an opportunity to bring these buildings up to standard so they will last well into the next century . . . The (Courthouse) Square and its heritage will improve in value and activity. Maybe out of this tragic event we can pull out a victory.”
Meetings were held over the weekend and will continue Monday to discuss the rebuild, Mayor Deb Shewfelt said.
“I think by Monday we’ll have a good assessment on the heritage buildings,” she said.
“We don’t want to see gaping holes there (in the Courthouse Square), but we still understand the frustration of our business people and maybe in some cases it’s easier to take a cheque and walk away. But we’re going to have a structure and process in place to deal with all of this.”
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