Demolition of the Kerr Apartments could begin as early as Friday, but how much of the building will survive is still anyone’s guess.
Fire chief Simon Grypma says the owners of the burnt out apartment block want to preserve as much of the heritage facade as possible, but damage to the building could make it unsalvageable.
“We’re looking at all the opportunities to be positive about it,” says Grypma, who initially hoped the Kerr’s granite walls could be saved. “But on the same hand the reality is the safety of the workers and the general public.”
The difficulty stems from the building’s rear wall, which was badly damaged by the January blaze and is now unstable. While the front facade may support the weight of the rest of the building, and crews will attempt to stabilize the Kerr’s east and west walls, there’s still a chance they won’t hold.
“It’s not conventional, normal construction,” says Grypma.
“If it was a wooden wall you could cut it down the middle and take the one side that’s damaged out and prop up the other side. But with the rock wall it’s anybody’s guess. It’s sort of like breaking a pane of glass with a pair of pliers and seeing where the cracks are going to go.”
The building’s interior also complicates matters. Several floors collapsed during the fire, and water pumped into the building has rotted much of what’s left inside.
“It’s uninhabitable, and it’s pretty well impossible to have workers go inside the building,” Grypma adds. “The opportunity still remains that once a machine is inside the building, it would be able to pick about. But we’ll have to just listen to the engineers.”
Though the building’s fate is in doubt, its stability won’t affect the fire investigation. The fire department has waited months for demolition to begin, because the blaze’s origin point was in the basement — which is buried under several collapsed floors.
Once the southern wall is removed a machine will pull debris away from that point, giving investigators a chance to conduct their examination before any other demolition occurs.
The fire, which displaced as many as 80 people, was deemed “suspicious” by the department.
Grypma says the block of Victoria Street in front of the Kerr may also be cordoned off, and is asking people to “be considerate of their own safety” once work begins.