A problematic apartment block on Central Ave. will soon be boarded up by the owner as he gets set to renovate it for use as student accommodation.
Pastor Vern Temple said he will continue to run his ministry at the site of the former 'CB Building,' but the last of his 50 tenants will be gone by the end of the month.
“In order to renovate we have to get everyone out. There is no other way,” Temple told paNOW. “We considered getting in security, like a Commissionaire, but it would have been dangerous and we didn’t want anyone getting harmed.”
Temple acknowledged that his attempt to offer low-cost accommodation to marginalized people in the community has not worked out as he planned, largely because gang members would habitually move into the building with family members or friends. He said that would lead to the violence, vandalism and noise issues that have plagued the site. The apartments have been the focus of concerns from the city, police, and fire department in recent years, with hundreds of calls reported.
All occupants received two months' notice of eviction at the beginning of May, Temple said, and “most of the good tenants” moved out within a month. Temple said this left about “half a dozen or so difficult tenants” still residing in the building. He insisted all would be gone by the end of June, but gave no timeframe for his proposed renovations to the building's 23 units. When asked if he was renovating in response to pressure from the city over building code issues, Temple insisted most of the work required was "cosmetic."
For some time, the pastor was adamant his apartments were a safe haven for people who needed to “be saved from their lifestyle.” However, he said a number of elements had come together recently to make him have a change of heart. These included the announcement that the University of Saskatchewan had bought the old Forestry Building nearby on Central Ave. to use as their new consolidated campus, his desire to get along with the neighbouring businesses, and his desire to be part of the improvements planned for Prince Albert's downtown.
“It would have been selfish of us to continue to push our agenda to reach these gang members, and we just decided to consider our neighbours," Temple said. “The writing’s on the wall. We want to work with the city and the neighbouring businesses, who we have listened to, and to make things better and safer.”
While Temple said he hoped the building's transformation into student accommodation would help the downtown, he wasn’t convinced it would necessarily lead to a reduction in police calls.
“Police calls may even increase,” he said. “That’s because we worked with the gangs and their lifestyle and now these people will simply move elsewhere in the city.”
Mayor Greg Dionne did not share Temple's optimistic outlook regarding the building's turnaround. In October, he vowed to go after the building with the "end goal of demolishing."
The mayor refuted Temple’s claim that shuttering the building could lead to increased police calls. Dionne pointed to the former Minto Apartments and said the local situation improved dramatically the day they nailed boards to the windows and secured the doors.
"It improved the Minto apartments the day we boarded it up,” Dionne said. “How is it not going to improve the area?”
The mayor said he recently had "the unfortunate pleasure” of touring the former CB Building along with the police and was “shocked the health board allowed” tenants to live there.
“It was just awful, right from the first step, to the needles and the junk and the odour. I just don’t even know how to describe it,” Dionne said. “When I toured the Minto apartments … I thought I had seen the worst of the worst. Well, the owner of this one should get a medal for how he has let this building deteriorate.”
Dionne also quickly shot down the notion of working with Temple to renovate the building. Based on his assessment after the tour, Dionne said he believed the damage to the building would require measures well beyond cosmetic repair, insisting it would need to be gutted completely.
“When I walked up the stairs, I asked the police, ‘Am I going to fall through?’” he said. “It was so soft from being rotted.”
He said Temple needs to abandon "the dream” he is ever going to renovate the building, citing the large financial investment required for a remodel. Dionne said the best bet for Temple at this point would be to sell the building.
One resident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she has accepted the need to leave but was concerned with the lack of care and respect being shown by the remaining residents.
She noted constant hollering and noise waking her up at all hours of the night and said smoke fills the halls and agitates her allergies. Last Monday, she said, she fell and badly hurt her knee and elbow, and was having trouble sleeping due to the stress. Even though the building is set to be vacated, she said she would appreciate more courtesy from the other remaining tenants.
"Saying the building is closing down doesn't cut it, as I have a right to life," she said. "I fall asleep at the computer ... [I] have pains in my head from being deprived of sleep."
On Twitter: @JournoMarr, @hickscanada1
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