August 17th, 2018

Heritage in the Hat: Re-purposing historic sites

By Medicine Hat News on February 3, 2018.

Is “re-purposing” even a word? It does have special meaning in the world of heritage. Saving and designating to protect a building is only part of the challenge. A designated heritage building without a purpose is probably doomed to neglect and insignificance. Finding a new, viable purpose for a heritage building is a true success.

The office building at the Medicine Hat Brick and Tile Provincial Historic Site has sat empty since the Ross Creek flood of 2010 washed through it, with muddy water rising halfway up its walls. With the cessation of manufacturing on the site, the new owner, the Friends of Medalta, did not need another office building. What Medalta does need is accommodation for visiting ceramic artists-in-residence in close proximity to the Shaw Centre where they need to supervise kiln firings at all times of the day and night.

The original brick portion of the office dates from about 1955, replacing a previous wood-built office. A significant addition was made about 10 years later to accommodate the increasing number of staff at I-XL’s head office. This addition was designed in a thoroughly mid-century modern style by local architects Jack Russell and Jim Needham and constructed by Paul Stober, with finish work by Joe Ferreira and landscaping by Gordon “Tiny” Crane of Crane’s Nursery.

Both exterior and interior walls featured the wide variety of brick products manufactured on site and in Redcliff, including glazed brick in the washrooms and pressed pavers as flooring. Clay pipe served as underground heating ducts. With a silty subsoil, wooden piles underpinned the structure. Significant roof overhang and special solar screens on the windows controlled heat gain. Over the years, minor changes were made to the interior layout, including an entire air-conditioned room dedicated to the company’s first mainframe computer, the size of a large refrigerator but with less computing power than your cellphone! From this location in Medicine Hat, staff managed plants in Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton, Calgary and Abbotsford, as well as six local plants.

After designation as a Provincial Historic Resource, architect Lorne Simpson (and currently James Reid), created a layout for the conversion of the office to a 12 bedroom artists’ residence. With the major financial support of BMO and the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation, significant repairs and renovations have been undertaken to completely modernize the interior and infrastructure while retaining the historical elements and exterior look. This includes a return to the original turquoise trim so fashionable in the early 1960s. The Friends of Medalta will be fundraising to complete the project by July which will provide lodging for this summer’s artists and an income stream to fund operations. All in all, it is an exciting re-purposing of this heritage building!

Malcolm Sissons is chair of the Heritage Resources Committee.

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