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CLGA face surprise structural repairs

Leaks, cracks & strains in old building top to-do list

Unexpected structural repairs to the new home of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA) have so far cost $100,000 but organizers are forging ahead with plans to move part of the collection early next year.

“You sometimes don’t know until you get into walls of old houses what’s happening,” says CLGA president Mary MacDonald. “We’re thrilled to have [the house], but moving into an 1850s building and trying to make it a modern archive has been a challenge.”

The three-storey house at  34 Isabella St was donated to CLGA as part of a community benefit package organized by the City of Toronto with the help of city councillor Kyle Rae. The Children’s Aid Society donated the structure and the land, valued at more than $1 million, while Cresford Developments, which is building a condo development behind the house, gave $250,000 in the summer for renovations as part of a package that allowed the company to build extra floors on its condo tower.

CLGA originally planned to move from its current location at 65 Wellesley St E to its new home in May of this year. Organizers wanted to have supports installed in the basement of the new building to bear the weight of the collection but as architects, contractors and archivists began their surveys, additional structural problems were discovered.

What initially seemed like  a small leak in the roof actually turned out to be a large problem. An addition to a room that was to house stacks was falling away from the building and the structure supporting a portion of the second floor had been damaged by water and previous renovations, leaving the floor too weak to support the collection.

The Cresford donation came at “exactly the right time,” says Robert Windrum, chief of CLGA’s volunteer committee and former general manager. “That’s what has kept us on track and allowed us to roll with these punches out of left field.

“They’re all things you feel good doing,” adds Windrum. “They’re long-term investments for us.”

Windrum expects that the structural repairs will be complete before the end of November and that renovations of the interior will be underway soon afterward. He hopes CLGA will be able to open the new space by February 2009.

Windrum says the archive will have a different feel than it did in its previous locations because the collections will be organized differently than before.

“The actual materials that we have won’t be as visible or accessible as they were in the past” to those who simply walk in, he says. More than 50 percent of the archive materials will be stored onsite, but visitors will have to request access to materials instead of simply delving into the stacks for themselves.

“It will be operating at a much more professional level, much more like a typical archive and library,” says Windrum.

The original plan included housing the entire collection at  the new site by building a storage facility behind the house but Windrum says there is no space to expand the building.

MacDonald says the current CLGA location, which costs $30,000 per year to rent, will continue to house some of the collection. Organizers are still deciding which items will go where.

“Things we think of as unique and regularly accessed, or also fragile, we want to make sure are with us and looked after, rather than tucked away,” she says.

MacDonald says the biggest benefit of the CLGA’s new home  is the space it will provide for members of the community.

“By having the ability to have people come in and see it as community space and engage people in history… we will actually take  a place in the community that is about education and outreach and community engagement, and provide new things for people to do,” she says.

MacDonald sees the house  as a more permanent home for  the CLGA, which has been on the move over the past decade. With its own property, MacDonald says, the archive can continue to grow and fulfill its national mandate.

“We’re not at the mercy of a landlord and we have an extraordinary capital asset that will ensure the archives won’t need  to be bailed out by any other body or worry about anything except coming up with the money to keep it operating.”