Church delays signing off on problematic new building

Published May 31, 2006

Editor’s note: This is an updated version of a story that appears in the June issue of the Anglican Journal.Two years after moving into a new building, the church’s national office has postponed closing the deal on its new offices at 80 Hayden St., Toronto, until it sorts out a problem with the developer involving the repair of a leaking vent in the mechanical room, which has put the church archives at risk and shut down air conditioning in the building. The problem was brought to the attention of Philmor Ltd., a Toronto-based company specializing in mixed-use residential and office complexes, last fall. (General Synod, the national office of the Anglican Church of Canada, negotiated office space at Philmor’s 80 Hayden property as a condition of the $3.65 million sale in 2002 of the Jarvis building. Staff moved into the new building in June 2004.) In an interview, General Synod treasurer Peter Blachford said, “Philmor has acknowledged that that is (its) cost to get that fixed.” He added: “We’re going to get it fixed. We all want air conditioning in the summer.” He said that the repair – which could take three working days – has been delayed for more than six months now since Philmor had been negotiating with the contractor who installed the vent to get it fixed. As of May 30, however, the situation had not been addressed, prompting General Synod to shut down its offices as well as the Anglican Book Centre, its retail arm, because of the heat – the environment ministry had issued a heat alert and smog advisory, with temperatures reaching a record-breaking 34 C. Until the leak is fixed air conditioning cannot be turned on since it causes water to leak into the archives vault. In a catch-22 situation, though, the archival collection also faces the risk of being destroyed from heat and humidity if the air conditioner is not turned on. Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, the primate (national archbishop), told staff on May 30 that General Synod was in “serious” discussions with the developer to have the problem fixed. In an interview, Mr. Blachford said General Synod would not assume ownership of the building until the leak is addressed. General Synod archivist Nancy Hurn has expressed “great concern” that the leaking vent in the mechanical room, which is housed above the General Synod archives vault, put the church’s collection of historical materials at great risk of being damaged. The extensive collection includes paper, newsprint, photographic prints/negatives, microfilm, motion picture film, audio and videotapes, digitized documents and images. “The standard accepted temperature for the storage of a mixed media archives is 67 degrees Fahrenheit (19.4 C) plus or minus two degrees. The standard accepted relative humidity for storage of archival material is 47 per cent minus 2 per cent,” said Ms. Hurn. She said that a “stable and controllable” environment was necessary for these materials, otherwise, “significant fluctuation of the temperature and/or humidity levels accelerates (their) deterioration” since they absorb and release moisture. On May 30, the heat in the mixed media archives reached 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 C). Jim Cullen, the former General Synod treasurer who is currently acting comptroller, said he had been aware that the mechanical room was situated above the archives vault and saw nothing wrong with its placement there. “It (mechanical room) shouldn’t be posing problems,” he said, adding that it was “the ideal place, the right place” to put it because the floors were specially-designed to hold extra weight and also, it faced a back wall. Mr. Cullen was the chief negotiator for the sale of the old building and the acquisition of the new one. “I don’t think we had considered the possibility of the leaking,” added Archdeacon Jim Boyles, former General Synod general secretary, who was involved in the moving process. “In hindsight, it makes no sense at all to have a mechanical room on top of archives. But at that time, we had thought that the building would be constructed so that there wouldn’t be those kinds of leaks.” With the slew of construction woes encountered in the new building (the developer’s original plan, for instance, did not provide for a staircase from the third to the fourth floor), Mr. Boyles acknowledged that General Synod should have hired a project manager “at an earlier time, who could have kept an eye, a closer eye on developments as they went along.” He added, “Those are things you learn on hindsight and I don’t think it’s likely that the church will be in the building business again for a long time.” Still, said Mr. Boyles, despite all the aggravations moving was still the best thing. “The old building was just becoming more and more difficult to live in. It was very costly.” Earlier, Mr. Blachford said he was looking at closing the deal on the building by the end of May. “We’ve made predictions before and I always get skewered, but I will try again,” said General Synod treasurer Peter Blachford in an interview. “I would hope that assuming everything goes the way we hope it’s going, we will be able to close the building by the end of May.” Mr. Blachford said General Synod’s lawyers and Philmor had addressed a “big issue” that had stood in the way of closing the deal on 80 Hayden. He said lawyers for both sides had to sort out issues relating to the payment of taxes. He said that the developer has been holding off paying property taxes until the city government acted on its application for a residential, instead of multi-residential tax classification. (General Synod offices are housed in the first four floors of the 21-storey building; the rest of the 17 storeys are privately-owned condominium apartments.) The developer wants a residential classification “which means each owner of each unit will then get their individual tax bill from the city,” said Mr. Blachford. “It didn’t help our scenario; our taxes were paid, although the money is being held by our lawyer,” he added. “But we had to satisfy our title insurance company so that our bankers would be happy that we were buying a property that didn’t have a huge tax debt attached to it. We think we’ve got that solved now … In terms of legalities, that was the only thing holding us down.”


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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