- by Faith Leitch

Once again the Old Courthouse and attached Jail was up for sale, after several attempts to find another willing buyer. Southbridge Retirement Homes purchased the property in May 2015 but after further investigation, including soil testing by London Soil Test Ltd., they took advantage of the 4-year buyback clause, returning it to the City in May 2016. Further attempts to secure a buyer over the years have gone nowhere.

A County Jail, built in 1853 and opened in 1854 for "drunks and misdemeanors", was attached to the back of the imposing limestone County Courthouse, in three separate sections, over the following years. The complex was surrounded by small farm lots and the jail site was enclosed by a white wooden fence. A small contingent of local police constabulary (4) occupied a few rooms on the main floor of the Courthouse.

On March 4, 1960, the County of Grey sold the Old Courthouse portion of the property to the City of Owen Sound for $20,000, in a 2-part bylaw, and moved the court up to the east hill. The Police Services expanded to fill the old courthouse space. The Governor's Residence became the home for the Sheriff and his family.

In 1976, the Province of Ontario took over the corrections system. The Owen Sound location became a provincial maximum-security jail -- right in the middle of a growing residential neighborhood. Instead of buying the jail property, the province and the County signed a 5-year renewable lease that saw the County receiving the money, with no responsibility to the property. As time went by, the province put only the minimum of money into the upkeep of the jail, claiming that they were only leasing and, at any moment, the jail would be closed down.

At this time, the position of the Sheriff was eliminated, and he and his family vacated, as the Superintendent of the Provincial Jail took over. The former homes' main floor was turned into office space and the upper floor got metal screens (and eventually metal bars) and was filled up with prisoners serving weekends. The passenger vans moving prisoners around became paddy wagons and occasionally a 45-seat coach bus; the local food delivery trucks were replaced by large trucks from out of town, and occasionally a 53-foot tractor trailer unit squeezed into the undersized parking lot. The garbage went from being hand-carried to a small truck to a big dumpster picked up and shaken by a huge truck. The snow removal was moved up from skid steers, then backhoes -- during the day, then the evening -- to a huge front-end loader for 40 minutes, at 4:30 am with staff moving cars around. All these vehicles spewed diesel fumes.

In 1987, the Police Services completed its move to the west side -- they could no longer function in the outdated building with its rolling floors, outdated heating system and ancient wiring. Owen Sound leased that section to the Grey Bruce Arts Council for $1 a year under the condition that they had to maintain it. With no funds, the Council struggled.

First in 1996, then in 2001, the jail was scheduled to close. Most people were unaware of the dangerous facility here. There was a small sign on the front of the old garage, stating the property belonged to the "Ministry of the Solicitor General". The fencing originally surrounding the area had long deteriorated and been removed, never to be replaced.  The cameras and razor-wire were not obvious to the public. Prisoners were picked up and delivered at the corner of the old garage -- rain or shine -- no enclosed sallyport for security.

In the meantime, over the decades, the Courthouse and Jail property continued to deteriorate with no oversight. No remedial work was done to meet standards. The Province of Ontario, the County of Grey and the City of Owen Sound all declared that it wasn't their problem/responsibility. The Province claimed that they were only leasing. The City of Owen Sound, claimed that the province had "Queen's Right" (ability to do whatever they wanted without interference) and, as the jail was a source of revenue, jobs, suppliers, and services, they refused to enforce the building and zoning codes as that might trigger an assessment ending in the closure of the jail. The County of Grey declared that they only took the money, despite being the landlord of the jail property. The province was delighted to be able to operate without the costs of upkeep. As the inmate population burgeoned in the larger cities, the province avoided building new facilities by renting cells in places like Owen Sound, transporting the prisoners back and forth to the original location, at taxpayer expense.

In 2011, the Province finally took stock of the situation and closed the jail. The last three prisoners were transferred out on December 4th, at 3 pm. It took the Province almost two years to decommission the property, turning it back to the County of Grey in November 2013, at a loss of $12,000 a month in revenue.

This triggered part two of the March 1960 bylaw. To Owen Sound's astonishment, they were forced to buy the derelict jail section for $5,000 from the County of Grey. Like most buyers of a property, the City should have obtained a building inspection to confirm the viability of the property. The remaining Arts residents were eventually evicted in order to prepare it for sale.

In 2014, the properties were originally offered at $249,000 for each section; then, all for the same price. In 2015, all was sold to Southbridge Retirement Homes for $10 with the condition that they could return the property to the City within 4 years (which they did a year later in May 2016). The Tom Thomson Art Gallery wanted the property as well but the full cost of the project was not feasible. In 2017, the property was listed for $90,000.

By November 4, 2017, the City feared that it would be impossible to attract a buyer so they budgeted $25,000 "to hire a structural engineer to investigate tearing down the Victorian-era jail". "The money would also be used to complete a designated substances survey to identify any hazardous materials in the building. The survey is required by provincial occupational health and safety legislation before a building can be demolished"..." whether for ourselves or..for prospective buyers". The City engaged W. Pantelmann Incorporated (WPI) Safety Consultants to investigate for potential Designated and Hazardous Substances as required by the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act, Section 30. The investigation was done on September 27 &28 and October 8, 2019.

In addition to the damning list, the report stated " The building materials throughout this building are mould contaminated, including floors, walls and ceilings. Conditions are such that mould will continue to propagate regardless of climatic conditions. Asbestos containing materials are in poor condition. Paints are high level lead containing throughout the building. Extensive remediation will be required to remove affected building materials in accordance with current Regulations. "

The report recommended:

" Based on the results of this investigation, WPI Safety Consultants recommends the following:  Include a copy of this report or significant detail in any Request for Tender/Quotation or Purchase Order to prospective contractors as required by Section 30 of the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act.  Keep a copy of this report together with any other report, prepared by or for the owner, of an inspection conducted under Sections 8, 9 and 10 of Ontario Regulation 278/05 Asbestos on Construction Projects and Building and Repair Operations, as amended, accessible. Project WPI 871 W. Pantelmann Incorporated© 2019 5  Review and abide by the requirements of the Ontario Ministry of Labour Hazard Alert: Mould in Workplace Buildings, reviewed May 2015.  Review the contents of this and any previous survey with the Joint Health and Safety Committee.  Restrict entry into this building to trained persons using personal protective equipment in the form of disposable coveralls, P100 respiratory protection, CSA goggles eye protection, CSA safety boots and CSA head protection.  Engage only a professional remediation contractor that can provide documented proof of: • Current WSIB Clearance Certificate; • Commercial General Liability Insurance with separate and specific endorsement for Asbestos, Lead and Mould Remediation; and • Proof of MTCU Asbestos Removal Training of workers and supervisors on site.

The designated (hazardous) substance report was published on the City's website in a 50-page report detailing the extreme contamination of the property and buildings, including mould, asbestos and lead Designated Substance Report Owen Sound Old Courthouse. I read the whole report -- pages of chemicals that I had never heard of. Per instructions, signs warning the public not to enter due to contamination were put on every entry. The report stated that anyone who purchases the property will have to encapture the contamination and have it removed to an appropriate site before any construction, at great cost.

Also, the City hired Taylor Hazel Architects to complete a Heritage Impact Assessment and Demolition Approvals Plan and they engaged "the services of Tacoma Engineering for the structural assessment of buildings and structures being considered for retention or demolition". This was done in October and November 2019, and was presented to the City on January 15, 2020.

A public meeting was held at the Bayshore, on October 19, 2020, to present 5 options, from complete demolition to doing nothing. No action was done. No mention was made of the Designated Substances Report. A new roof was to have been put on in 2021, to preserve the integrity of the courthouse. This was not done, but plywood was put on most of the windows last year.

The proposal put forth by the new owner is for a dining, entertainment, party venue -- a business notorious for very thin margins. It is hard to fathom how it can make a profit after paying for the cleanup and new construction - Southbridge estimated that cost in the range of $10.5 million. In a small town where a major source of income comes from the government, who will be its patrons?

Will the new owners be able to compete with venues like Collingwood?

If this purchase holds, the City will rid itself of this property and its costs, and take in $50,000. If not, in a town with one of the highest property tax rates, are the taxpayers going to suffer more? Does the purchase agreement contain any deal that includes the City assuming demolition costs? Having secured another buyer, will Owen Sound find the same buyback clause, included in this sale, used to have this derelict property put back on its hands?

As for property values, how would a commercial venue, with long hours, outside activity and the bustle required to function improve the lives of the residents crowded around it? Zoning bylaws stipulate a buffer zone be set up to protect any residential properties beside this type of facility. The new owner is planning to build/renovate right up to the side of the adjacent home.

Then, there is the matter of all the "Designated Substances" material. The report listed the extreme contamination inside the buildings for the most part, but included the exterior as well. "Analysis of the interior and exterior paints identified that the exterior paint exceeded the Federally regulated level of 0.5% by weight at 6.9%. Caduceon Laboratories Report B19-32854 16-Oct-19. Comparative air sampling with the ambient outdoor levels identified Aspergillus/Penicillium levels up to >1700% higher".

This means that, all along, the residents surrounding this property have been assaulted by this contamination, and continue to be, with complete disregard. Whether this property is sold or not, we will continue to suffer. Either the new owner or the City will have to contend with this horror, as this contamination continues to be released into our homes and properties and will increase during construction or remedial action. We need protection from this situation.

Mayor Boddy tripped in an interview, almost referring to the homeowners as "shabby". Somehow, this complex is going to increase our property values -- in the years to come? How will it appear to the excited patrons pouring out of this establishment to see us "poor people" peering back at them?

This is a residential area. We deserve the safety, privacy and quiet enjoyment of our homes and properties. We already live with a fire station, an ambulance service and a convenience store. We live in a high density area with a mix of single homes, townhouses and apartments. All within one block. This proposal is "too much"! Find someone with deep pockets who can afford to do the remedial work and erect affordable housing on this site that is close to the services needed to improve their lives.



CopyRight ©2015, ©2016, ©2017 of Hub Content
is held by content creators