Dennis Building

FUTURE OF PROVINCIALLY-OWNED BUILDING IS UNCERTAIN AFTER YEARS OF NEGLECT

Once called “the finest office building in eastern Canada,” Internal Services Minister now says the building is “way far beyond repair.” In June, 2014, the National Trust wrote a letter to Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil asking for his intervention to ensure a reasonable process of due diligence when considering the future of this important historic site. 

Why it matters

A landmark on the corner of Granville and Georges Streets in downtown Halifax, the Dennis Building was constructed in 1863 to house the dry goods firm T. & E. Kenny, owned by brothers Thomas and Edward, both highly influential in provincial and national affairs. Of stone construction with horizontal string courses and prominent bracketed cornices, it was specifically designed to complement the architectural context of Province House Square. William Dennis, owner of the Halifax Herald, purchased the building in 1900 when T. & E. Kenny relocated. Ravaged by fire 1912, it was almost completely lost. Prominent architect Henry David Jost was hired to renew the interior and add three stories. He also had the original granite façade reinforced. The Herald later moved, and it was taken over by the Government of Nova Scotia for office space.

There are confirmed tunnels no longer in use that run under some of the buildings in the area, and one of the known entrances lies in the basement of the Dennis Building.

Why it’s endangered

In May 2013, the provincial government evacuated 50 employees for safety concerns after a mold problem was discovered in one of the upper floors. Water leaks and air quality issues are an ongoing concern. Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Maurice Smith said it is not clear whether employees will be returned to the building, as crews are still evaluating the problem.

Other historic buildings in the vicinity of Province House Square that also followed its classical-inspired design have been demolished. An unrealized 2006 redevelopment plan included several scenarios for the Dennis building: partial to full demolition that could incorporate the façade into a new building.

Where it stands

There is no word from the Hon. Maurice Smith on whether or not the mould problem can be fixed, but after years of inadequate maintenance and repair, the building is in poor condition. It was closed earlier in the year due to water infiltration. A structural assessment by Kassner Goodspeed Architects Ltd. in 2010 condemns the building on the grounds that the perimenter masonry walls and windows are in poor condition, despite structurally solid foundations, floors and roof, and without having drilled a number of test holes to confirm interior wall condition.

In June, 2014, the Hon. Labi Kousoulis, the Minister of Internal Services, was quoted in the Halifax Chronicle Herald stating, “The building is way far beyond repair” and that its renovation would not be a consideration for the site’s future.  Meanwhile, a mold analysis shows that levels are lower than what is found in outdoor air.

The National Trust has written a letter to Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil asking that he intervene to ensure a reasonable process of due diligence is followed: that an appropriate structural assessment is undertaken and a Request for Proposals developed to allow qualified developers to come forward with creative solutions for rehabilitation. Minister Kousoulis’ response states that the government “has not yet reached a decision on the future of the Dennis building.”

A qualified restoration architect has offered his services to the Minister to inspect the building, free of charge. So far, the offer has been neither accepted or rejected.

The National Trust has been helping to keep the story in the news!

Update 2015: The latest indication from the government is that the Dennis Building must come down, though there is no timeline for when that might occur. Minister Kousoulis has told the Chronicle Herald that the government is looking for a partner to develop the site, stating that the government would like to incorporate the historic façade, though he gave no elaboration on what that might mean. In February 2015, a tender was issued for the removal of all interior materials from the building.

 

Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia

Top 10 Endangered Places List: 2013

Status: Endangered

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