Demolition looms closer for Nanaimo building ravaged by fire

NANAIMO - City council votes to remove Jean Burns building heritage status.

The wrecking ball swung closer to downtown Nanaimo’s Jean Burns building when city council voted to remove its heritage status.

The motion was carried in council Monday to approve a heritage alteration permit, which clears the way for the building, which was heavily damaged by a fire that displaced 15 businesses in March, to be torn down.

“Before we do any alteration to the building, including what I call alteration with extreme prejudice, like demolition, we need to have council approval on that,” said Chris Sholberg, culture and heritage planner for the city. “We tried to look at rehabilitation of the building as a possibility. We always start with that, but in this case they’ve got an issue with the building – they’ve had a structural engineer look at it recently – and they’re concerned a bit about the integrity of the exterior building portion. If there was a major snowfall or something, would it potentially cause some sort of collapse?”

But any date for the building’s demolition won’t be set until a firm cost for the project is nailed down, which includes making the site safe, which will be essentially a hole in ground if the building has to be taken down to its foundations.

“Then we have another engineering problem, engineering walls around there so people who are intoxicated don’t fall in,” said Rick Hyne, operating officer for Crankshaw Holdings.

Hyne said it’s time to stop reacting and come up with a plan for the site after demolition.

“We could put it back the way it was. We could put up something super nice, up to six storeys, maybe more, who knows?” Hyne said. “But the current thinking right now is we want it to be a legacy. There’s a lot of opportunity, not only for us, but for the community at large as we move through this.”