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4 historic houses on University of Alberta campus saved from demolition

Click to play video: '4 historic homes on University of Alberta campus saved' 4 historic homes on University of Alberta campus saved
Four historic houses on the University of Alberta campus, known as the "ring houses," have been saved from demolition. Nicole Stillger explains what's next for these iconic structures – Oct 1, 2021

Four historic houses on the University of Alberta campus — known as the Ring Houses — have been saved from demolition.

In a news release Friday morning, the U of A announced the sale of the 100-year-old brick Edwardian-style homes to local real estate developer Primavera Development Group.

The Ring Houses, plus two additional houses on the U of A East Campus, will be relocated, brick by brick, next spring. The U of A said the houses are slated to become iconic centrepieces of an arts and sculpture community development project as envisioned by Ken Cantor, the president of Primavera.

“Although the Ring Houses and two houses in East Campus Village will be moved from U of A’s North Campus, they will become part of a new project that not only acknowledges their history, but also reimagines and renews them as a living part of an innovative, future community,” said Bill Flanagan, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Alberta.

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Cantor said when the opportunity presented itself to purchase the homes, he was really intrigued and didn’t want to see them broken up.

“We believe in the potential of the Ring Houses to anchor a new neighbourhood that also reflects how Edmontonians have used and enjoyed the homes over the past century,” Cantor said in a news release Friday.

“They will become an artistic hub that will host activities such as The Edmonton Sculpture Project and include public access and amenities, that pay homage to their experiences in their first neighbourhood.”

Speaking Friday with Global News, Cantor said he envisions space for sculpture work.

“That vision has always been one oriented to sculpture, to studio space, to interaction with the community, much like how McLuhan House works for writers and residents,” he said.

“The vision is to see that the six homes relocated as a community, but a community that isn’t private residences, where there will be year-long residencies for sculptors from Minneapolis-Saint Paul, or Italy, or Japan or Mexico.”

Click to play video: 'Push to save historic University of Alberta ring houses continues' Push to save historic University of Alberta ring houses continues
Push to save historic University of Alberta ring houses continues – Mar 20, 2021

Built between 1911 and 1914, the houses were part of 10 that were grouped in a circle on the U of A’s north campus. Over the years, they have housed presidents and deans, museum and collections services, as well as the University of Alberta Press.

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The houses were decommissioned earlier this year and offered to the public to buy and move, after word that they were to be demolished was met with criticism.

Read more: 4 historic houses on University of Alberta campus set for demolition up for grabs

Speaking with Global News on Friday morning, Flanagan said he’s pleased the developer was able to come forward with what he called a very compelling vision for how the houses can be reimagined.

“It’s a way that we can reimagine what the Ring Houses can be as a community resource and also preserve the history of the Ring Houses and recognize the history is important to the university and to the Edmonton community,” he said.

The president said the university has no particular use for the houses, given they were never intended to be offices. He added that repurposing them in any sort of meaningful way for the university would be enormously costly, “something the university cannot possibly afford given the other financial pressures on the university.”

“They were built as single-family dwellings and they can’t really be repurposed to advance the core mission of the university, which is research and teaching,” he said.

“There’s also a very large deferred maintenance associated with the houses, so it was just simply not possible for us to preserve the houses where they’re currently located.”

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Click to play video: '4 historic houses on University of Alberta campus set for demolition up for grabs' 4 historic houses on University of Alberta campus set for demolition up for grabs
4 historic houses on University of Alberta campus set for demolition up for grabs – Feb 9, 2021

Primavera is still in the process of deciding on a new location for the homes.

“We’ve had some really preliminary discussions with the city on a couple of sites that I would love to see come to pass, but those are also long and difficult negotiations, particularly in this climate, for a municipality,” Cantor said.

“Whether it’s one of those, or whether it’s some place in Beaumont or Stony Plain or St. Albert or another community that might have an equally valid location and whatnot, we’re pretty open at this stage.”

The university said people will soon see fencing go up around the houses as they are prepared for transport. Once moved in the spring of 2022, the land will be returned to a green space while the university considers future development.

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