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THURSDAY SPOTLIGHT: Qualicum Beach heritage building has had lengthy history

The Qualicum College building, a municipal heritage site, has been weathering the elements for years with only a blue tarp for covering up until a few months ago. Most recently, Paul Jahn of Sotheby’s International Realty presented at a Qualicum Beach committee of the whole meeting in February about possible plans for the heritage building and its surrounding site.  - NEWS file photo
The Qualicum College building, a municipal heritage site, has been weathering the elements for years with only a blue tarp for covering up until a few months ago. Most recently, Paul Jahn of Sotheby’s International Realty presented at a Qualicum Beach committee of the whole meeting in February about possible plans for the heritage building and its surrounding site.
— image credit: NEWS file photo

Once described as well-suited to Qualicum Beach in a council document, the the tudor-style Qualicum College has most recently been described as “the ugliest building.”

That comment was made by Paul Jahn of Sotheby’s International Realty Canada at the town’s committee of the whole meeting on Feb. 1 where he presented possible plans for the heritage site.

At that same meeting, a resident questioned the viability of the heritage building staying intact and if it would make the site more easily developed. The resident said she wouldn’t object if the building was to come down, with a memorial of some kind in its place.

Coun. Neil Horner quickly shut that idea down.

“I would point out that is a heritage building for this entire community, not just your neighbourhood. You may not have a problem tearing it down, but I most certainly do,” Horner said.

Coun. Anne Skipsey told The NEWS that Qualicum Beach is not the only community dealing with this issue. She said Conservative MP Peter Van Loan introduced a Private Member’s Bill (Bill C-323) which would amend the income tax act in order to provide a tax credit for the restoration of heritage properties.

While the bill m not specifically help with the college building, Skipsey said, it gives context to the issue.

Skipsey also said 40 years ago, a 20 per cent federal tax credit for the rehabilitation of heritage buildings was introduced in the U.S. and it revolutionized the way developers think about old buildings.

Skipsey, who grew up in Qualicum Beach in the 1960s, has been an advocate for historical locations in town. Occasionally if there is a proposal on an existing heritage property or site, Skipsey will ask town staff that historical buildings in town be memorialized.

Skipsey said she doesn’t think the heritage building will ever return to its former glory, but she said the hotel played a role in making Qualicum Beach what it is today. Skipsey said she would personally like to see the building preserved.

“I recognize it can be costly and inconvenient to rehabilitate a heritage building, however, I believe it is important for us as a society to invest in preserving our past it helps us remember and define who we are and where we have come from,” she said.

Over the years, Skipsey said, the heritage building was a popular meeting space for community groups and organizations.

“I understand, it was also where the planning meetings for the town’s new civic centre were held,” Skipsey said.

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The Qualicum College pictured between 1939 and 1940 when it was still used as a private school for boys. The school stayed open until 1970. Robert Ivan Knight, who founded and ran the school, was unwilling to sell the building to someone who couldn’t guarantee preserving it in its original state.                 -- Photo courtesy of the Qualicum Beach Museum and Historical Society

Built in 1935, the Qualicum College, originally the Qualicum Beach School, was founded by Robert Ivan Knight and his younger brother George, according to archives from the Qualicum Beach Museum and Historical Society.

The school stayed open until 1970.

when Robert realized boys’ schools were no longer a viable option.

At the time, Knight was unwilling to sell to someone who couldn’t agree to preserve the college in its original state.

This is a far cry from the heritage building’s current state which has been weathering the elements for years with only a blue tarp protecting it up until a few months ago.

Over the years, the heritage building has been a big part of the community, according to Skipsey.

“I would say The College Inn was more than just a hotel. It was a gathering place which fostered community and the locale where many fond and lasting memories were made,” Skipsey said.

In 1970, the college became a hotel after it sold to Mike Dyde and Kerry Keilty with a clause to buy the building with everything intact. After two years of renovations, the Qualicum College Inn officially re-opened. It included photographs and trophies from the boys’ school days.

Under their ownership, Skipsey said, the hotel featured Murder Mystery weekends which filled the hotel in the off-season.

“The hotel was probably most famous for being the location of a television movie called It Happened At Lakewood Manor or Ants,” she said.

“Some residents were hired as extras and the filming of the movie created a real buzz in the community,” she said.

In 1982, the hotel was sold and was re-renovated and re-opened as the Qualicum Heritage Inn.

Then in 2006, the hotel was sold to Pomeroy Restorations and Ainsley Foster and given municipal heritage status. The development was renamed College Heights. There were plans for the heritage building to be a clubhouse for the surrounding apartment buildings.

It wasn’t until December 2011 that they received a building permit, but it was only in 2013 that work began on the first phase of the development.

In March 2014, The NEWS reported work on the College Heights development would be postponed, but the developer would also have to finish the exterior of the building on schedule.

In October 2014, the first phase opened with nine of the 16 units sold. The existing apartment building, Cambridge Manor, was the first of three proposed apartment buildings Berkshire and Ashton manors with plans for the last two buildings to be built once enough units were sold in phase one.

However for the next two years, the development wouldn’t go any farther.

In April 2016, PR Pomeroy Restoration and Construction Ltd.’s second development permit had expired. No exterior work could be done, but interior work was allowed.

In August 2016, the Sitefinders Group of Companies had secured the rights to complete the development, even holding an open house.

However, just a few months later in November, The NEWS reported that the College Heights development was back on the market after the Sitefinders Group of Companies stepped away from the project, said Qualicum Beach planning director Luke Sales. He said the company had proposed doubling the density on the site, but the idea didn’t appear to have much traction with the public.

At the time, the property was listed for $2.5 million; it has since dropped to $1.95 million.

Now in 2017, the heritage building and its surrounding area is in limbo.

Jahn, while unable to present a detailed plan on Feb. 1, said the company’s proposal was to keep the heritage building as is since it has “good bones,” but he said the the whole process has become complicated since the heritage building and the existing condominium development are in the same strata.

Jahn said severing strata is a “legal nightmare,” adding that for any work to go ahead on the heritage building, it needs to have 100 per cent of the strata members and the stakeholders give their OK.

Jahn said it’s going to take months to navigate through the legal issues since there is a foreclosure notice on the title.

For now though, it seems like the once-popular location as Skipsey described it will stay in its current state for just a little while longer.

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