By Trevor Busch
In a move billed as an enhancement to the downtown business environment and a new avenue for tax revenue, town council has sold the former courthouse, library and police station complex to private owners.
Following in camera (closed session) discussion at their Feb. 13 regular meeting, town council voted unanimously to sell the former police station and library building (located at 5219 49th Avenue) to Dennis Klok for $100,000, and the former courthouse (located at 4902 53rd Street) to Spitfire Investments Ltd. for $135,000. Council also resolved to allocate $50,000 from 2016 operating reserves to the 2017 budget for the demolition of the garage to separate the buildings so the lots can be subdivided.
Combined, the buildings were appraised at $250,000. The two sales totalled $235,000 combined, or $15,000 below the appraised value. According to the town’s advertisements in early February, both purchasers are residents of the community, “interested in revitalizing the downtown buildings.”
“I think we always had this amount roughly in mind,” said Mayor Henk DeVlieger in an interview following the decision. “I think, in general, we were actually happy with the tenders that came in. We’re going to separate it, of course, into two properties. There’s three garages and a little hallway that the town is going to take off to make it into two separate titles.”
As per Sec. 70 of the Municipal Government Act (MGA), when a municipality sells a piece of property for an amount lower than the appraised value, it must be advertised publicly as per Sec. 606 of the MGA.
“Officially, we had to do an appraisal. It (the sale offer) came in about $15,000 under the appraisal. By law, then we have to advertise that we are selling property below the appraised value. We went through the process — it’s been in the paper (The Taber Times) — and there’s waiting periods. That’s the proper way to do it,” said DeVlieger.
Constructed in 1918, the Taber Courthouse became the model for Alberta courthouses built prior to WWII. After being declared a judicial sub-district in 1917, the Town of Taber donated land for the construction of the courthouse building that would also house the local detachment of the newly-formed Alberta Provincial Police. The Taber Courthouse was also a site for meetings of local community organizations and Taber town council. Following the dissolution of the judicial sub-district, the courthouse continued to be used for a variety of provincial government activities, and in 1953, became the official Town Hall.
Present town council had agreed to seek designation of the building as a Provincial Historic Resource in a narrow 4-3 vote in late 2012. This designation enhances the building’s eligibility for funding through the Alberta Heritage Resource Foundation (AHRF).
The building, designed by provincial architect R.P. Blakey, is of solid brick set on a concrete foundation and sheathed with stucco. The building was used as a courthouse until August 1978, at which time the courts moved to a new facility.
“I think we got adequate compensation, plus on top of that, we don’t have to pump any more money into it as far as utilities, because we had to keep the buildings heated,” said DeVlieger. “Plus, we can now collect property taxes, whereas before it was a municipal building, we weren’t getting tax dollars out of it. So we’ll have two extra revenue properties as far as taxes goes.”
Long associated with the now-defunct Centre Court for the Arts project under the aegis of the former Arts Council of Taber for the Performing Arts (ACTPA), the complex was once billed — after extensive renovations were to be completed — as the potential home for a theatre and arts facility for the community. After fundraising and various volunteer efforts fell short, as well as degree of reluctance on the part of the town and previous and present councils to invest heavily in the concept, focus has now shifted to the possible creation of a completely new arts, theatre and convention complex attached to the present Taber Community Centre Auditorium.
“Altogether, I think it’s probably a good move that we sold those two buildings, because we are down the road still looking at a theatre to replace what the intent was for the last couple of years,” said DeVlieger. “So altogether, I think in the end it will be good for everybody.”
According to Alberta Culture, the heritage value of the Taber Courthouse lies in its association with the administration of justice in early Alberta, and as an architectural prototype for Alberta courthouses designed prior to WWII. Character-defining elements include the symmetrical single-storey rectangular plan, stucco and brick exterior, classically inspired projecting entrance, large round-arched multi-paned tripartite transom and sidelights, and entrance arch supported on brackets.
“What makes me happy is we’re actually separating the two buildings, to give the courthouse more appeal like it was in the olden days,” said DeVlieger. “The people that bought the building, they want to restore it — they have to anyway, because it’s a designated building — they want to restore it as soon as possible, and I think they want to use it as offices. They’re going to actually move in it themselves as far as I know. Which I think is a big improvement from the way it’s been sitting there. By doing it the historical way, there’s this little ugly lean-to on the front entrance, that will come off as it wasn’t originally there.”
The sale, which involved two parties purchasing separate properties, was conditional on the town demolishing the former garage facilities.
“The sale, you could bid on it three ways. One was the old library, or on the old courthouse, or you could bid on both, and then if you bid on both, we wouldn’t demolish, and that would be up to the people that bought it as one package. But since it sold in two pieces, we had the budget to take those three garages off. I think they can easily do that within that budget,” said DeVlieger.
DeVlieger suggested the proceeds of the sale will be allocated into general revenues to bolster town reserves, not earmarked for any specific projects in the immediate future.
“I think it will go into general revenues, back into our reserves. We have a couple of other pieces of excess property, like by the water treatment plant for instance, there is a cul-de-sac and for years there was a couple of empty lots — or they could be residential lots — and we looked at that, and we were able to create two extra residential lots to sell. The property has just been sitting there, mowing grass. So that will be extra revenue again, but that probably most likely also goes into general revenues. Which helps offset, and helps our reserves.”
Alberta currently has more than 350 provincial historic resources.