The old brick mill’s reprieve from a possible wrecking ball has been given at least one more year.
At the regular meeting of Yorkton Council Monday the Yorkton Brick Mill Heritage Society appeared to give its report on progress toward making the old mill a self-sufficient historic site.
“The Yorkton Brick Mill Heritage Society Inc. has worked towards the October 2012 timeline, to demonstrate to the City that a plan of action to rehabilitate the former Yorkton Flour Mill can be achieved and that a new use will eventually sustain the investment in its stabilization,” explained a report circulated to Council from the Society.
PCR Services Corporation (PCR) was retained by the Society to review a report prepared by C.A. Reed on the Yorkton Flour Mill. The C.A Reed report was commissioned by the City of Yorkton in 2011. PCR also undertook an assessment of the options outlined in the report in accordance with the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada, added Society spokesperson Vern Brown. The services of PCR cost $20,000 plus incidentals. These expenses were covered by local fund raising and a $10,000 grant from the Sask Heritage Foundation.
“No long term fund raising was undertaken at this time as the committee did not know if saving the mill was a reality. However, people who supported the committee during the initial fundraising indicated they would support it further if the project proceeded,” said Brown.
The Society was established initially as a Committee of Council in November 2011 with the purpose to make a report to Council by this October “14,” explained Brant Hryhorczuk, Planning & Engineering Department manager with the City.
The Society report detailed that work needs to be carried out soon at the mill, in particular to fix roof leaks and structure cracks.
“After consulting with masonry contractors and a structural engineer, it would appear that stabilizing the structure can be practically achieved with costs that are comparable to demolition of the structure,” stated the report.
“The order of magnitude costs vary for stabilization and rehabilitation work primarily because of the order in which the work is proposed to be undertaken. A stabilized structure according to Kenyon Engineering would cost approximately $50,000 - $75,000. Gracom Masonry estimates a scope of stabilization work that would yield a cost in the order of $176,500. The order of magnitude cost to demolish the structure is $50,000 - $75,000, if the equipment and materials were not salvaged. The demolition costs would be higher if the equipment and materials were to be salvaged. It should be acknowledged however, that this estimate only represents the cost to demolish the structure. It does not include the environmental or cultural costs – some of which are more challenging to quantify than actual demolition costs.
“Given the likely cost to demolish the structure, it would appear as though a similar investment would stabilize the building while an important part of Yorkton’s history was granted a new lease on life.”
Brown said the Society sees the process moving forward being carried out in three phases. He said the first two phases; to clean the interior of the building to make it safe for phase two, which is to stabilize the building which would include repair to the roof, cracks in the walls and general work to restrict water entry, have a high priority.
Phase three would see the Yorkton Brick Mill Heritage Society continuing to seek private and corporate fund raising and government grants to rehabilitate the mill, liaise with the City of Yorkton to pursue future use of the property in and around the mill that will provide access and services to the mill as well as ensuring this becomes a self-sustaining historical facility.
Hryhorczuk said City Administration did have some concerns, but added they are being met in the Society’s recommendation.
“The concern of the Department of Building Services regarding this facility is one of public safety. The department must be assured that the building in its current state will not endanger the public due to damaged building materials falling to the ground possibly causing injury. Building services agrees with the C.A. Reed report that the interior of the building shall be off limits to anyone but qualified individuals,” he said.
“It is the opinion of Building Services that the report prepared for the Mill Committee by PCR Services Corporation does indeed meet the criteria of establishing a plan for future rehabilitation of the facility.
“Building Services does not feel that the current facility poses an immediate danger to the general public in its current state. However, it is recommended that the building be secured against possible entry by the public and that periodic inspections take place in order to determine if the building has deteriorated to a state that may pose a danger to public safety.”
A letter of support for the Society’s efforts from Frank Korvemaker, an archivist and construction historian was included in the package circulated to Council. It detailed the significance of the mill in terms of the city’s history.
“During the past century, agriculture has become the primary modern industry in the West, and accounted for the development of thousands of farms, grain elevators and flour mills. As technology brought major changes to the agricultural community, the number of farms and grain elevators has decreased dramatically, and flour mills, like fur trade posts, have almost completely disappeared from the prairie landscape. Where there once stood hundreds of mills, today in Saskatchewan there are only three, located at Esterhazy, Vanscoy and Yorkton. The rest are but a distant memory at best, some preserved only in historic photos at archives and in local history books.
“The Yorkton Flour Mill has unquestionable heritage significance not only to Yorkton, but also to the province and western Canada. Built in 1898, it is the oldest of the three surviving flour mills, and the only one constructed of brick, a brick manufactured right in Yorkton by John J. Smith, a leading pioneer entrepreneur in the community. A businessman confident of the future prosperity of Yorkton, he not only made bricks for many of Yorkton’s buildings, but also constructed the Yorkton Flour Mill. That mill cost $18,000 to build and equip in 1898 – the equivalent of about $900,000 today. This was a major investment in the community. Smith, therefore, is an excellent example of the entrepreneurial spirit and commitment that made Yorkton the thriving city that it is today.
“The mill was subsequently sold to and operated by another leading Yorkton businessman – Levi Beck. He paid over $1 million for the Mill ($22,000 at 1901 prices).
“This direct association of the Yorkton Mill with the development of Yorkton as an agricultural centre in northeastern Saskatchewan, and with leading business people in the community, makes the mill an excellent site for potentially interpreting this story to the people of Yorkton and to the travelling public.”
Council unanimously supported the Administrative recommendation that they “report back to Council within one year with a progress report. At that time Council will consider disposition of the mill structure or a possible further extension based on progress. The City will continue to conduct periodic inspections to ensure that any public safety issues do not develop at that time.”
“I think the building has some historical significance,” offered Councillor Les Arnelien.
Coun. Ross Fisher said the Society obviously has ideas but added that the “challenge is to do that at a reasonable cost.” He said the issue is to make the facility self-sustaining so that the City is not facing any costs, and with that in mind he said he wants to see some concrete steps put in place “over the next little while.”
Brown said fundraising for future steps was not really possible without Council green lighting the Society’s plan.
“It’s pretty hard to sell something not really for sale,” he said.
Brown did add the mill will never be self-sufficient as a stand-alone structure, but can be the centerpiece of a development.
“It’s got to come from what we put around it,” he said.