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Uncertain future for 1890s Armouries building in legislative precinct; tear down or repair?

Complex is in City of Victoria's heritage register; study being commissioned to provide options
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The old brick Armouries Drill Hall in the legislative precinct. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

The future of the old brick Armouries Drill Hall is once again under review as part of a long talked about restoration of buildings in B.C.’s legislative precinct.

Built in 1891-1893, the complex is on the City of Victoria’s heritage register and remains in use today with offices for legislative assembly staff and media outlets. It faces Menzies Street and is southwest of the main legislature building in the James Bay neighbourhood.

The legislative assembly issued a request late last year for bids to look at the building.

Proposals are being evaluated. It is expected that the winning consultant from the engineering/architecture community will be awarded the work early this year, likely by mid-February, said Paul Holman, of AHA Creative Strategies, the public relations agency for the Capital Planning and Development team on this project.

The bid document states the province was seeking proposals to replace the building. But Holman said in a statement that the decision about whether to replace the building with a new structure or to carry out an upgrade to the Armouries has not yet been made.

In 2017, the idea was floated of tearing down the Armouries to make way for a new building to serve as a backup to the main legislature building in case it collapsed during an earthquake.

That building, at more than 100 years old, has been deemed to be at high risk in a major earthquake. Earlier estimates have said that making it safe would cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

In the latest look at the legislative precinct, the Armouries contract will start with a concept and design stage for possible options and uses. That work is expected to be completed this fall, Holman said.

Options will then be examined to determine whether the building should be retained.

“Based on the outcome of this analysis and business case, a final decision will be made as to what is the most strategic and sustainable approach, ­perhaps late winter,” Holman said.

The building is considered safe to work in now, but is “still at serious risk in the event of a major seismic event,” he said.

The Armouries is 59,000 square feet in all, but has just 16,500 square feet of usable space.

It is unclear what might be in the works regarding the rest of the legislative precinct. “We cannot share the reports because of security concerns as the reports provide detailed information on aspects of the building that could be misused or misinterpreted by external individuals or groups,” Holman said.

The Victoria Heritage Foundation’s website said in the 1890s Victoria was feeling left out by all the building activity on the mainland and steps were taken to enhance some of the city’s institutional structures, which led to the construction of the Armouries.

The complex was built as a drill hall, with space for ordnance storage and with a home for the caretaker. The drill hall was used as a community hall on Saturday nights, the foundation said.

It provided space for events such as basketball games, ladies’ hockey, girls’ fencing, regimental concerts and ceremonies and special events. In November 1895, a state ball was held to welcome Gov. Gen. John Campbell Hamilton-Gordon, Earl of Aberdeen and Lady Aberdeen.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com