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Concerns about future of historic building

The future of the former Ontario Malleable Iron Building is now in the hands of Metrolinx as part of the expansion of Lakeshore East line. Oshawa resident Marg Wilkinson would like to see the building maintained for adaptive use. Metrolinx says it is committed to the conservation of the building’s cultural heritage value, but that it will be some time until the future use is decided. (Photo by Dave Flaherty)

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

A recent edition of The Oshawa Express’ Fourth Estate has sprung a local resident into action.

The article profiled 500 Howard Street, the home of the former Ontario Malleable Iron Company plant and Knob Hill Farms.

In 2013, the property was expropriated by Metrolinx and is pegged for the site of the new Oshawa Central Go Station as part of the Lakeshore East line expansion

The buildings themselves have been mostly vacant since Knob Hill Farms left in 2000.

The older building, which faces west towards Front Street, has fallen into disrepair over the years but appears to be structurally stable.

The future of this building is of concern to Marg Wilkinson.

Wilkinson is a former member of the Heritage Oshawa advisory committee and performs some other committee duties for the organization.

She wants to make sure that the opinions of local residents are heard on the future of the former Ontario Malleable Iron Company building.

“Personally I’d like to see open consultation with the public and interested parties to plan the use for that building,” she says.

According to documents provided at a public meeting held in April, Metrolinx says its cultural heritage evaluation report “retains cultural heritage value” of the former Ontario Malleable building.

Currently, plans are to demolish the former Knob Hill Farms buildings at the location.

“This part of the building does not contain heritage attributes and does not contribute to the cultural heritage value or interest of the property,” says Amanda Ferguson, a spokesperson for Metrolinx.

An impact assessment will be performed to evaluate heritage conservation options for the building.

“As these options and potential restoration requirements still need to be developed and undertaken, it would be a number of years before Metrolinx could consider future uses,” Ferguson explains.

If required, a strategic conservation plan will also be prepared to help guide the conservation of the cultural heritage value and heritage attributes of the property.

Wilkinson says, in her view, she’d like to at least have a portion of the building maintained for “adaptive reuse.”

“Is it going to be the ticket buying area? A kiosk? Are they going to split it up so small businesses could be part of it? There’s a myriad of things it could be,” Wilkinson notes.

One thing she doesn’t want to see is just the retention of the building’s facade.

“That is not something a lot of people are interested in. It’s become a little problematic and overused, and it really has no meaning anyway,” she says.

Using the more than a century old structure would pay homage to Oshawa’s past.

“You have an opportunity to refurbish this building, and in that, celebrate the manufacturing that went on there because a lot of people would not have any idea of how worldwide the manufacturing from Malleable Iron was in its day,” Wilkinson says.

Not only this, but she feels it could be a major part of what will be a busy transit hub.

“There are so many people coming into Oshawa,” says Wilkinson. “It may be their only glimpse of Oshawa, so let’s make it a good one.”

And while 500 Howard Street hasn’t seen much action at all over the past 18 years, the buildings are in relatively good standing compared to other abandoned facilities.

“These buildings are usually left to demolish themselves by neglect on part of the owners,” she says. “And unless the city steps in and tells the owners ‘you have to keep this building up’ when it falls below standards, it is just left to disintegrate.”

However, with the province stating that construction will begin on the expansion in 2019, Wilkinson says she wants to be proactive and make her voice heard.

She says when the 407 came through Oshawa a number of important heritage buildings fell by the wayside.

“It was very depressing because, by the time the public found out, it was too late,” she says. “I want to get ahead of it, and bring it up to the public, and see if people are interested.”

For Wilkinson, she is not on “a crusade to save [the building], but just wants information available so people can share their thoughts.”

According to Ferguson, once all the required studies for the project are completed, the public can provide feedback during the 30-day review period.

It is unknown when this period will be, but Ferguson says the public will be notified.

She also stated another public meeting will be held, but could not specify an exact time.

As the property is under provincial ownership, it is included on the list of provincial heritage properties maintained by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport.

“The property falls under Part III of the Ontario Heritage Act, and as such, Metrolinx must make decisions about the property in accordance with the standards and guidelines for conservation of provincial heritage properties,” Ferguson states.

This means it can be listed under the City of Oshawa’s Heritage Register, but cannot be officially designated.

“Metrolinx is committed to the conservation of 500 Howard Street’s cultural heritage value and heritage attributes, and would not object to, but also support the property being listed as a non-designated property on the Heritage Register,” Ferguson adds.