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Future of historic Parksville water tower remains undetermined

Staff directed to investigate options including relocation to Victoria
The Parksville water tower currently located at 600 Alberni Highway. (PQB News file photo)

The future of the historic Parksville water tower is up in the air.

Parksville council discussed options for the tower that include restoration on site, a relocation to Victoria and demolition during its May 6 meeting.

Council previously donated funds to the the East End Track Gang (EETG), part of the E&N Railway Division of Canadian Railway Historical Association in 2020, to restore the tower and relocate it in working condition to nearby Island Corridor Foundation property.

The city had planned to demolish the aging tower for a cost of $35,000, when the EETG offered to instead preserve the tower, erected in 1910. Half that money sits in a trust intended for the project, according to Jack Peake of the EETG.

Peake, a former ICF chair, updated council on some of the challenges his group has faced since 2020, which include the loss of members local to the Parksville area, as people have died or moved away.

“We don’t have the bodies up here that we used to,” Peake said, and asked if the city could connect him with a local service club or anyone who could assist with the physical labour needed for the operation.

The other issue, according to Peake, is a crane operator had previously indicated he would donate time and equipment, but “that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, so we’re probably going to have to pay him for his services.”

“We would like to propose that the E&N group continue to manage this project using the funds that you have currently given to us, plus additional funds that were promised to us,” he continued.

The E&N group would manage the project and arrange for truck rentals or crane rentals, Peake added.

Another option, he said, is to disassemble the tower and transport it to a property in Victoria home to other railway artifacts.

Mayor Doug O’Brien pointed out Parksville has a shortage of historical buildings and said he would hate to see another one disappear.

“I appreciate the romantic notion of the railway and the historical value and so forth but I’m just thinking in my head there’s so many maybes that are all the way down the line,” he said. “I’m reluctant.”

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It’s also become difficult to find volunteers post pandemic, O’Brien added, and the costs associated with the project have almost certainly gone up since 2020.

“We have to make a decision pretty quick because, as we’ve been advised by our staff, the existing water tower here is a liability,” he said. “It’s going to fail and we’re not prepared to have that liability, that’s why we looked into the demolition.”

Council members expressed concerns about ongoing maintenance costs if the tower was restored in place, as well as liability and insurance.

O’Brien and Coun. Amit Gaur stated a preference to relocate the structure to Victoria for preservation.

“We had anticipated that the liability would actually be assumed by the society,” said the city’s chief administration officer Keeva Kehler.

Kehler also said that if the city added the water tower as a new asset it would increase the insurance costs, and Parksville would need to hire an engineer to inspect the tower.

“The biggest risk that I could say is people have already tried to damage it over the years,” she said.

Coun. Joel Grenz said the estimate to deconstruct, rehabilitate and move the water tower was approximately $320,000, according to the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Division’s website.

Council voted unanimously to have staff investigate the cost of relocating the structure to Victoria, and to contact the E&N group to see if they are interested in facilitating the deconstruction and relocation.

Kevin Forsyth

About the Author: Kevin Forsyth

As a lifelong learner, I enjoy experiencing new cultures and traveled around the world before making Vancouver Island my home.
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