More often than not, when an opportunity is lost, it’s lost forever.
That sad fact was going through Dave Rogers’ mind this past week as he witnessed the demolition of the 122-year-old building just north of the Peterborough Public Library at Aylmer and Simcoe streets. In its place will come 12 parking spots and green space for the library, which is undergoing a $12 million renovation.
While the destruction of a historical building is something Rogers never wants to see, that’s not the source of his greatest frustration.
Rather, the owner of Peterborough-based Relic — which retrieves and repurposes material for the purpose of making furniture and other useful items — is upset his request to rescue roof rafters from the landfill fell on deaf ears or, at the very least, was heard by the wrong ears.
The #reclaimedwood contained in the rafters alone would have made close to 30 TEN FOOT long reading tables for the new @ptbolibrary. We are all for #progress, but what about #responsibility? Would it hurt to save a little bit of our past?#salvagedwood #sustainabledesign #upcycledfurniture #upcycled #ptbo #peterborough #kawarthalakes #oldwood #reclaimed #timbers #heritage #historicpreservation
Rogers’ plan was to take that wood “from old-growth forests that we don’t have anymore” and create 30 10-foot reading tables for the new library space — with the added reclamation work to be free of charge.
“The idea came out of nowhere over the summer,” says Rogers, noting he initially approached city councillor Dan McWilliams about his idea, sending him an email to which he responded positively.
Rogers later sent the same proposal to councillors Dean Pappas and Dianne Therrien, as well as Gillian Barnes, Project Manager of Facilities and Planning Initiatives for the City of Peterborough. Also contacted was Mississauga-based Tri-Phase Group, which was awarded the demolition contract.
He was especially encouraged by Tri-Phase’s response, saying emails bounced back and forth between him and the company for a week late last year. After that, he says, “they stopped responding.” That, he says, has surprised him as, from what he gathered from Tri-Phase’s website, “they try to re-use everything.”
“Part of what I do, and why I enjoy what I do, is the fact that I’m preserving something of our past,” Rogers says. “You can just ask for the wood but why not go in with an idea? You’re spending $12 million next door on the library renovation. This massive new space is going to need new furnishings in it. You’re taking down this building next door for parking spots. It’s got this great resource in it that could be used to outfit at least something.
It doesn’t have to be tables. It could be anything, but tables to me just seemed like a logical place to start. This (proposal) gave the City an opportunity to save face a little. They’re taking down this old building to turn it into 12 parking spots. Historically, it’s not a significant building, but it’s 122 years old. There’s only so many of those old buildings around.”
While the wood he sought is gone — useless “unless they have a matchstick operation somewhere” — and his offer to build tables for the new library space is dead in the water, Rogers is pushing for a better result moving forward.
“There are so many things that we do wrong in terms of preserving. I can fly over to London, England and have a beer tonight in a building that’s 500 years old, yet we can hardly keep things for a century here.”
Rogers points to Vancouver where a city-governed policy dictates that 75 per cent of the material of any residence built before 1940 that’s facing demolition must be recycled in some way.
“If we can get the City of Peterborough to a similar place, that would make all the difference in the world,” he says.
“You cannot replace that wood. That, to me, is the most shameful part of all this.”
Still, Rogers is encouraged by some steps that have been taken in the right direction. For example, the demolition of the old jail at the County of Peterborough building overlooking Victoria Park saw him able to get his hands on some of its wood for a client.
“They have a young daughter. They wanted a little bench made for their kitchen … a detention bench for when she misbehaved.”
Rogers has also been working with The Publican House and the gutting of the former Peterborough Arms space. He’s worked with the owners and has “a useful piece of lumber stored away. It’s waiting for a specific project or two and will go back into that space.”
For more information on Relic and/or to connect with Rogers regarding his building material preservation and re-use efforts, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: we were unable to reach representatives from either the Peterborough Public Library or the City of Peterborough for comment before publishing this story.