The diocesan plan to shed buildings has reached a new stage after an offer was accepted for the sale of Bishop’s Court and the Diocesan Synod office in late October.
“We have signed an agreement for the purchase and sale, with conditions,” said Secretary of Synod David Peer, adding the closing date is Dec. 16.
“The Diocesan Synod has recognized for some time that Bishop’s Court and the Diocesan Synod Office do not meet our current needs. Our experience during COVID-19 is that it will not meet our future needs either.”
The Diocesan plan to divest itself of the buildings includes creating a new vacant lot on Church Street. The diocese received permission from the City of Fredericton to subdivide the two large lots to make a third in the middle of the two properties.
“It creates opportunities for the future,” said David.
One possible outcome could be the construction of a new synod office building between both properties on Church Street in downtown Fredericton.
Whether that will happen depends on many things, including synod’s current and future needs and possibly a second party to share the construction expense and the eventual building.
“Anything we do has to cost less than what we’re paying now,” said David. “The operation of both buildings has been a significant expense for the diocese."
The total annual cost over the last two to three years for both properties has averaged approximately $60,000 — spent on insurance, maintenance and utilities.
Apart from its use as an emergency homeless shelter and a residence for Christian university students, Bishop’s Court has been largely empty for almost a decade.
“It’s not a practical space for a bishop in 2020,” said David.
The house was purchased in 1943, at a time when bishops entertained and were consulted by government, he said.
“Our bishop bought his own home. We have another house in Fredericton future bishops could use, or we could buy another. The better arrangement is for homes that are more modern and better suited,” he said.
The synod office was bought in 1985. It was originally a family home and was never meant to be an office.
“The house has practical problems. It’s expensive to heat, it’s not accessible, and we’ve fallen behind on maintenance,” he said, adding the cost to bring the building up to modern standards, including the installation of an elevator, and the heritage zone limitations that would come with upgrades, are impractical.
The buyer has purchased both properties with a view to renewing them to their heritage state, he said.
Part of the city rezoning included the need to demolish the old garage behind Bishop’s Court because it is situated on the newly created lot. The demolition plan was reviewed and approved by the Heritage Preservation Review Board, and demolition took place Nov. 17 — this morning.
With almost everyone working from home rather than the Synod Office, the need to vacate the building is not the challenge it might have been had there been no pandemic.
“What we’ve learned is we can operate totally remotely,” said David. “It’s not ideal — personal relationships are important — but now we know it can be done.”
As for where the diocesan office will be after Dec. 16, “we’re investigating options right now of shared space, renting temporary accommodations or leasing back from the buyer,” said David.
“A lot is happening in the next six months.”
The Diocesan Synod Office will move temporarily to Cathedral Memorial Hall while continuing to explore options for future office space, including on the new lot at 121 Church St.
1. The Diocesan Synod Office was sold in late October.
2. Bishop's Court
3. The garage at Bishop's Court early on Nov. 17 before demolition.
4. The garage was demolished because it is on land that is now the middle lot between the two sold properties.
Demolition photos by Ben Bourque. Other photos by Gisele McKnight.