COLUMN: Historic South Slocan building deserves better fate

How incredibly disappointing that FortisBC plans to do away with the West Kootenay Power staff house.

No. 3 plant hall

No. 3 plant hall

How incredibly disappointing that FortisBC plans to do away with the West Kootenay Power staff house in South Slocan. The company will demolish the building, along with a warehouse, after it opens a new operations facility in Ootischenia in late 2017.

The demolition was part of the plan submitted to the BC Utilities Commission last summer, although I don’t recall Fortis ever advertising the fact.

The submission includes an extensive report on the building’s state and a long list of deficiencies. But it’s purely a structural and financial analysis. No consideration is given to the building’s historic value.

The austere but attractive staff house was designed in either 1926 or 1929 by the firm of McCartner and Nairne the same duo responsible for the Marine building in Vancouver, the West Kootenay Power office and Cominco Arena in Trail, and Nelson’s Civic Centre, among many other notable works.

Originally described as a hotel, it was home to workers who built the South Slocan dam and later became a guest house. Each room on the upper floor, now shared offices, has its own bathroom. The first-floor salon is now a reception space and the second-floor solarium is a meeting room. The basement is used for storage and a lunch room.

From 1986 when it was re-tooled as an administration office until sometime in the 2000s, the building was open to the public and you could admire its vine-covered splendor when you went to pay your power bill. For decades it was also a favourite spot for graduation photos thanks to its beautiful gardens.

But the architectural firm hired to assess the building was not impressed: “The re-purposed hotel rooms are significantly too large to act as individual offices, and the en suite washrooms are redundant. There is no effective open space for the typical office pool. The basement offices are substandard with lower ceilings, exposed piping, and little access to daylight.”

The estimated cost of repairing the building is several million dollars more than a new purpose-built facility in Ootischenia. I don’t begrudge the company for looking elsewhere in light of that fact, but do wonder why it’s necessary to demolish the building and whether they gave any thought to preserving it for other purposes.

Since acquiring the company in 2003, FortisBC hasn’t shown any awareness of or regard for West Kootenay Power’s past. In recent years it also demolished No. 3 plant hall, home to a badminton hall and bowling alley, and turned former company houses over to local fire departments to burn in practices. (At least Creel Lodge, a fishing cabin on Slocan Pool built ca. 1906, is still standing. But at this rate, I wonder if it might also have a date with a bulldozer.)

Maybe it’s not too late to change the company’s mind demolition is probably two years away but it will require a groundswell of support from customers who value the staff house’s heritage value and are willing to pay higher rates to keep it standing.

BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED RAIL TRAIL: Also in South Slocan, but on a happier note, it’s heartening that the Ministry of Transportation has agreed to include a tunnel in the design when it replaces the highway bridge.

“We heard loud and clear the concerns of local residents in maintaining trail access underneath this bridge,” Minister Todd Stone said in a news release issued Monday.

“This is another example of collaboration between all levels of government to ensure we’re meeting the needs of the local community, while ensuring safety remains top of mind as we move forward with replacing this important bridge connecting these communities.”

Residents worried their wishes would be brushed aside because of the significant additional cost up to $400,000 but full credit to them for making their voices heard and to the government for listening and responding accordingly.

FLIGHTS OF FANCY: It’s fascinating to see Castlegar and Trail dueling over who has the more reliable municipally-owned airport responding, perhaps, to some gentle prodding from the media.

The City of Trail was first, reporting last week that it had a 56.9 per cent landing success rate in January and 94.6 per cent rate in February compared to 37.1 per cent and 68.7 per cent for Castlegar, respectively.

The news release cautioned the latter numbers were just estimates based on public data; figures provided by Castlegar showed January’s landing rate was actually 39 per cent, while they haven’t provided February’s rate.

Trail’s news release further stated its success rates “can be attributed to the airport’s global positioning system instrument approaches,” and noted the city is working with NavCanada and a consultant “to further reduce its approach minimum descent altitude by an additional 1,000 feet, the lowest in the area.” (Italics in the original.) “As a result, the weather plays a less critical role [in] completing arrivals and departures.”

Previously it was difficult if not impossible to pry airport data out of Trail I’m guessing they didn’t want to pick a fight Castlegar even though there was a public perception Trail was more reliable, and perhaps a lot more reliable.

A day later, the City of Castlegar fired back with its own media release, which put a novel spin on things. Ignoring the percentages, it pointed out that the total number of flights that departed Castlegar in January and February was greater than in Trail 98 and 136, versus 70 and 92.

Clever, but not comforting. What difference does it make to a passenger how many flights land in a month? All you care about is the likelihood your particular flight will take off or land. (Italics mine.) The cancellation rate might as well be 100 per cent for the person who just got bumped.

Castlegar’s news release added the city is working with the federal government and Nav Canada to further reduce its minimum descent altitude by 1,500 feet, “which would be the lowest in the area.” (No italics there.) “When approved, the weather will play a less critical role of completing arrivals and departures.”

There are, of course, many reasons why you might pick one airport over the other, but the odds of departing or landing on schedule has to be near the top. It’s high time regular data was provided so travellers can choose accordingly, and this is a good start.

DIMWIT SAVING TIME: The Star evidently cannot be trusted on matters of time.

On Friday’s front page, we implored readers to “Turn your clocks back this weekend.”

Of course, anyone who followed our advice would have done the exact opposite of what you’re supposed to. Clocks move ahead an hour in March, as more than a few bemused readers pointed out.

Apologies to anyone who showed up two hours late for church Sunday or work Monday. We won’t name the parties responsible, but his initials are Greg Nesteroff.