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VANESSA ANNAND/AA
Members of the building committee for the United Church are hoping to build a second ramp on the building this summer. The only existing ramp goes to a back door.
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Two Athabasca heritage buildings receive $55,400 in grants

Jul 02, 2014 06:00 am | Vanessa Annand

Two historic Athabasca buildings — the Athabasca United Church and the old Canadian Northern Railway Station — have received thousands of dollars through the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation over the years; the latest batch of funding was announced last Thursday.

The Athabasca United Church Building Committee has received $5,400, while the Athabasca Heritage Society has received $50,000 for restoration work on the train station.

Both buildings are designated as provincial historic resources, explained Gary Chen, a heritage conservation advisor with the historic resources management branch of Alberta Culture.

Chen is intimately acquainted with both buildings and the restoration work already done to them.

“It’s really nice to see the way they progress,” he said of his monthly stops in Athabasca.

“We are happy with what they are doing,” he said of the heritage society’s efforts with the train station so far. “They have done most of the outside and some structural (work) a couple years ago, and now they’re focusing on the interior.”

Chen said in total, the train station has received $232,120 in grants from the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation.

However, he said grant recipients have a lot of work cut out for them when it comes to accessing funds beyond the provincial grants.

“Remember: this is a matching grant,” said Chen.

As for the United Church, Chen said he first looked at the building in the early ‘80s.

“It was in really bad condition at the time,” he said.

The foundation was okay, he said, but the building had to be opened up so structural elements could be upgraded. The building was constructed in 1913 when building codes were a far cry from what they are today.

But once a building has been designated a provincial historic resource, any necessary upgrades must be done in a way that’s sympathetic to the building’s original look and feel. The purpose of Alberta Historical Resources Foundation grants is not to pay for rampant modernization; conservation guidelines must be followed, and character-defining elements must be safeguarded even as the building’s life is extended.

In total, the United Church has received $185,150 from the foundation over the years, said Chen.

The most recent $5,400 will go towards hiring an architect or consultant to advise the United Church Building Committee on how to preserve the building’s character while making it more accessible.

Dan Dennis, a United Church trustee and member of the frontage renewal project steering committee, said the church’s only existing ramp goes to a back door. A ramp to the front door is needed.

“It’s key to our being able to make the church handicap accessible,” said Dennis.

Dennis added that the $5,400 provincial grant is only one piece of the puzzle; the committee is still waiting to hear back about other grant applications. However, if all goes to plan, the project may be able to proceed later this summer.

The grants received in Athabasca are two of 82 grants announced June 26 totaling $1.48 million for heritage conservation projects across the province. The grants are awarded twice annually.

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