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From worship to workspace: Saint John synagogue repurposed as office space

Click to play video: 'Saint John synagogue, church converted to serve as offices'
Saint John synagogue, church converted to serve as offices
WATCH: The buildings will serve as offices for Cooke Seafood. As Silas Brown reports, the offices will soon house 60 employees – Jun 12, 2019

A restoration and renovation project that saved a 148-year-old synagogue from the wrecking ball is almost complete.

The structure was purchased by the city in 2008 for $500,000 as part of the Peel Plaza development before sitting empty until declared surplus and slated for demolition in 2017.

That’s when the Cooke family stepped in.

“Our headquarters across the street is full,” said Cooke Seafood spokesperson Joel Richardson, “so we needed more space and we were able to come to an arrangement where we could acquire the synagogue from the city.”

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The city chipped in $50,000 to help with the removal of hazardous materials, but Cooke has spent several million restoring the building as a way to give back and preserve a piece of Saint John history.

“It’s a 150-year-old provincially designated, historic building, and it was very important to the family to do as much work as possible to restore everything that they could within the structure,” Richardson said.

“Synagogues and churches and places of worship around the country—there’s many of them that are quite old and dated and require attention and the Cooke family felt that this was an opportunity for them to give back to the city of Saint John.”

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Buildings at the former Canadian Coast guard are being demolished

The project recycled as much material as possible, repurposing the original windows and keeping some of the numbered pews on the top floor.

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Architect Robert Boyce was integral to the process of restoring an original feel while also updating the space for a modern use. Boyce says he was excited to get the chance to restore the building and give it a new purpose.

“I mean old buildings are wonderful things but without uses they’re… Well we can’t have all kinds of museums around town so it’s good to see a good use for it,” he said.

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Boyce says the exterior remains quite similar in look as it did before work began, and that the real challenge of the project was inside.

“On the interior we needed to introduce things like air conditioning, proper washrooms and exiting, sprinkler system, so a lot of mechanical systems that support the use that wouldn’t have been there,” he said.

The building will now join many other restored spaces around the city in what Boyce calls a “rich collection” of historic buildings.

“Saint John’s been a leader in the field of heritage preservation in Canada for years and we’re blessed with a rich collection of particularly 19th century buildings that, with particularly the conservation areas we have, we’ve preserved whole neighbourhoods,” Boyce said.

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Cooke employees are due to start moving into the building over the next few weeks, and the company will host an open house on June 21 at 3 p.m.

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