Tower at former Woodlands site in New Westminster to be demolished

The old Centre Block tower at the former Woodlands site—today’s Victoria Hill—will soon be demolished.

Two years ago, after much consultation with former residents, their advocates and other stakeholders, New Westminster city council decided to retain the tower for “adaptive re-use.” Later, it was resolved to keep the tower as a “commemorative ruin” and to provide a service that benefited either Woodlands survivors or the community at large. The rest of the Centre Block had been destroyed in a catastrophic fire in July 2008.

However, according to a city staff report, groups representing former Woodlands residents opposed keeping the tower as a ruin, and the cost to retain and upgrade the tower for other uses was deemed too much. Retaining the ruin would cost about $500,000, stated the report, while upgrading could reach $3 million.

In lieu of retaining the tower, the city plans to enter into an agreement with Onni Group of Companies, the owner and developer of Victoria Hill, to provide interpretive panels on the site’s history, as well as landscaping on the former tower footprint site.

“A representative task force will be struck to help determine the appropriate themes, content and images,” states the staff report.

Onni would also contribute $600,000 to a City Heritage Fund.

In April 2010, 95 per cent of the 200 people who responded to a survey said they wanted to see the Cente Block tower demolished, but the city council voted 4-3 to keep it.

The move shocked advocates of former residents.

“I’m stunned,” Ross Chilton, executive director of the Community Living Society, told the NewsLeader at the time. “When you have a consultation process that is undertaken over months that has a huge majority requesting demolition and council then overrides that, I think that is terribly unfair.”

Reached Tuesday, Chilton said: "The former residents and families that I have spoken with since the vote are ecstatic and relieved that their wishes will finally be honoured. We plan to work with the city and Onni to arrange an opportunity for interested former residents and their families to witness the demolition. This will help many of them to achieve greater closure over their traumatic experiences in the institution."

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