In what its interim executive officer describes as a difficult decision, the diocese of Ontario has decided to put up for sale a historic building that has served as its home for half a century.
As of early July, 90 Johnson Street, Kingston, Ont., which houses offices for the bishop and program staff, archives and a retail book room, has been listed for sale, says Alex Pierson, the diocese’s interim executive officer.
Built in 1851, the building served as a residence for Bishop Kenneth Evans from 1952 until he moved out in 1966, after which it became the diocesan centre.
“It’s difficult to leave a building that we have 60-plus years of history in, that has 160 years of history in this city-it is difficult to leave that, and it is difficult for some of the people in the diocese to see that happen,” Pierson says.
However, he adds, the decision makes the most financial sense for the diocese in changing times. “We believe it makes us into better stewards of the gifts that we have,” he said. “As the world evolves, we’re evolving with it; we’ll be best positioned to serve in that world.”
The move, says Michael Oulton, bishop of the diocese, stems from an ongoing review of all its operations, which the diocese began in 2010. This review, he says, has involved asking advice from consultants as well as parish leaders across the diocese. The diocese has also considered the views of individual Anglicans.
Faced with a projected deficit of more than a quarter million dollars in 2011, Pierson says, the diocese took some measures to cut costs in the short term, which whittled the deficit for that year to under $100,000. (Since then, the diocese has run balanced budgets, he says.)
The finance committee knew, however, that reviewing its ownership of the building would involve a “longer discussion” than these short-term cuts did, and the diocese has been focused on this really only in the last 18 months to two years, he says.
This June, the finance committee presented the diocese’s Synod Council with three options: stay in the building; lease part of the land to a developer to build on; or sell the building and move into rented premises. The committee, Pierson says, recommended the third option, based on an analysis of how the space is used and the cost of work the building would likely need in the future.
With almost 9,000 square feet, including basement, the building has more space than the diocese now needs, he says. Moreover, he adds, the building has not had any work done on it in 30 years, and its HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning system) needs to be upgraded. Some of the work, such as replacing windows, would be expensive because of the property’s heritage designation. All told, more than half a million dollars would have to go into properly maintaining the building over the next three to five years, he says.
The committee also considered that the money earned from selling the building could be invested for future use, spent on new ministries, or both.
At its June meeting, the diocese’s Synod Council voted to follow the committee’s recommendation and put the building up for sale. It has been appraised for more than a million dollars, Pierson says, and the diocese hopes to get at least that amount. The diocese is also now working with potential landlords to find the leased space that will be its new home. It’s expected that the building will be sold, and the diocesan offices moved to their new location, in early 2017, he says.
Asked to comment on the decision, Oulton writes, in an email, “Challenges to established patterns of ministry, both lay and ordained, administration, finance, infrastructure, the place of the Church in society and how we communicate the Good News of Jesus Christ are common themes across many denominations today.
“I prefer to see these challenges as opportunities, signposts encouraging us to explore the possibility that the Spirit of the Living God is doing something new in our midst which will ultimately draw us closer together as followers of Christ and attract others to join us in the mission given to us all.”
Note: Bishop Kenneth Evans died in 1970, not 1966 as originally stated in this article.