After nearly 60 years, work has finally begun to restore the old Telephone Exchange building on 1st Ave to its former glory.
Workers began replacing damaged exterior brick and doing other work this week.
“I don’t think they thought we could do it,” says Les Anderson, president of the Rossland Seniors’ Assocation. “But the old fogeys did it.”
What the seniors did is not give up on the building, after first accepting it as a home for the senior’s assocation way back in 1957.
But even then the building, built in about 1910, had seen better days. The brick used on the facade had not been properly maintained, and by the late 40s was already fading..
“They called it soft brick, it was dried in the sun,” says Anderson. “That’s the basic way of making brick, it works, but that soft brick had to be maintained.
Because it wasn’t, by the time the seniors took over the building, it needed major repair work.
“Work was done here and there but wasn’t enough,” says Anderson, who’s pored through old minutes of the association to learn the story of the building. “Eventually what the seniors did was walk away from it, because they couldn’t afford to keep it up to standards.”
With ongoing mould problems, outdated electrical and other systems, and the brick facade crumbling, the city, now the owners of the building, decided on some drastic action.
“The city decided in 1976 that they could either strip the paint and fix the brick on it, or put stucco over it. The cheaper was stucco,”says Anderson. “But the ornate brick work on the building – some of it was protruding, so they took a sledge hammer and knocked it off.”
Another 30 years of benign neglect brings us to 2004, when Anderson says he joined the seniors association, and learned the city was again talking of demolishing the building. He says he helped start a campaign that eventually raised $180,000 to do major repairs like fixing the floor that had pulled away from the wall, knocking out an internal wall, dealing with some of the mould issues, fixing the plumbing and wiring, and a dozen other problems.
“We kept after the city,” recalls Anderson. “They agreed with us if we started a 10-year program to restore the building, they would foregt about knocking it down.”
Since then, more fundraising has collected over $180,000 more to begin work on this, the second-to-last phase of the building’s long journey. The association has hired contractors who can work with heritage brick, and heritage mortar, to restore the old brickwork to its former glory.
“The old facade is one of the most beautiful facades in Rossland, it was very ornate at one time,” he says. “These guys know how to do that. They have several pictures of the orginal facade, and that’s what they are following. They have been measuring, taking pictures, the whole nine yards.
The work began last Thursday, and is expected to last several months. Some work will also be done on the interior, and restoring the old windows to their original design as well.
After that, the building will be just about complete. Only one big job remains – diverting an underground stream that flows through the basement, creating what Anderson calls a “nice swimming pool” in the basement.
But just getting to this stage, and knowing they’ll have a beautiful building by the end of this work, excites Anderson.
“I think seniors can be very proud of sticking to their guns, not giving up and just keep pushing forward,” he says. “A lot of people really doubted that we could pull this off, but we did.”