by Jennifer Lavallee
Morinville News Correspondent
A well-known Morinville landmark, Perras Place, is slated to be demolished by the Town after a unanimous vote from Council on Jan. 24.
The motion to proceed with the demolition of the 1903 building was put forward by Deputy Mayor Brennan FitzGerald.
In November, the Town had decided to hold off on the demolition of Perras Place until a report on costs could be compiled to show how much money it would take to do the work needed to bring the building back up to code. That direction came from Council after a descendant of the Perras Family, Paul Riopel, attended a Committee of the Whole meeting and implored Council to reconsider demolition.
The building, which is currently owned by the Town of Morinville, was originally a dwelling belonging to Riopel’s family, the Perras’ (Joseph H. Perras and, later, Raymonde ‘Rip’ (Perras) Riopel). Today, the building is being used to house the Morinville and District Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Information Centre; however, both will soon be relocating to the main floor at Town Hall.
Coun. Stephen Dafoe, who made the original motion to halt the demolition process until more pricing information could be provided, said in an interview that his intent on the delay was to ensure Council was doing its due diligence.
“I don’t think it is wise to knock buildings down without knowing the costs of the alternative,” said Dafoe. He also remarked he was satisfied with Administration’s report and, given the high cost to restore the building (which ranged anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000, depending on which repairs were made), it is not reasonable to spend tax dollars on that expense at the current time.
It is a conclusion Morinville’s Mayor, Lisa Holmes, agreed with, saying, “the large amount of investment needed to bring the building back to a useable state is not a financially responsible decision.”
The figures used in the report from the Administration were compiled in 2011 and 2013; however, the Town said in a statement that because conditions of the building had not changed since those studies were completed, spending more money today on new studies did not make financial sense, and Council agreed. “It was clear nothing was going to go down in costing,” said Dave Schaefer, Morinville’s Director of Community and Protective Services.
Dafoe maintains the deterioration of several buildings in Town, not only Perras Place, but also, the old teen centre, the Midstream building, and the Ray McDonald Arena did not just happen in the last three years, during this Council’s term. However, he said, this Council does want to make final decisions on all those facilities, so it does not pass the same problems on to the next Council.
“Is it the building we need to preserve or the memory of the people who once lived in the buildings and the broader community?” mused Dafoe.
Holmes said she looks forward to engaging in a conversation with the community and with the Town’s Historical Society on how Morinville can celebrate the spirit and memory of Perras Place on the site, in ways that will make its history known.
Meanwhile, Dave Schaefer said after Perras Place is demolished, the land will likely be used as a temporary green space and, later, a report will go to Council regarding possible uses for that land, which could include an addition to St. German Place (i.e. Town Hall). “Once the site has completed demolition, it will then be prepped most likely to be grass. Depending on Council direction,” noted Schaefer, “the development of the space will probably be done in greater detail as part of the 2018 Budget.”
Paul Riopel, who was out of the country when the decision was made to go ahead with the demolition, told the Morinville News he is saddened to hear it: on behalf of both the Perras Family and, also, for other remaining pioneering families in Town.
“This Morinville landmark (Perras Place), like St. Jean Baptiste Park, was prominently located within the core of the community and stood as a symbol of what we continue to treasure as a substantial piece of our heritage moving forward,” said Riopel.
“Driving down Main Street and gazing across at what will undoubtedly become a temporary green space will not lighten the hearts of those of us who remember how passionately Rip (Raymonde Perras/Riopel)—a teacher and lifelong resident of this town—spoke of the wealth of knowledge and life lessons to be learned from one’s history. It is unfortunate that Morinville Town Council missed that history lesson.”