With work to demolish buildings at the site of the former AbitibiBowater paper mill in Grand Falls-Windsor closer to becoming a reality, a local group is trying to find a way to protect another property linked to the mill’s history.
Grand Falls House, a Tudor-style mansion, was taken over by the province when it expropriated AbitibiBowater properties associated with the mill in December 2008, shortly after the company announced its plan to close the mill in early 2009.
Pulp and paper mill baron Alfred Harmsworth of England and his brother, Harold, built the 38-room mansion in 1909. It would serve as an alternate residence for them while they were in the area and house guests as well.
The Mill Manager’s House was built on the same property a few decades later.
Earlier this year, a volunteer sub-committee of the Grand Falls-Windsor Heritage Society was formed to find a way to save Grand Falls House. The town council agreed to support the committee, and the provincial Department of Innovation, Business and Rural Development is also providing help.
That committee is now requesting proposals from consultants interested in creating a long-term sustainability plan for the property. According to Bryan Blackmore, vice-chairman of the committee, the one-of-a-kind property requires a lot of money for upkeep. He suggests creative thinking will be a necessity.
“The general view (is) that a standalone museum-type building, where people can come and look at it and say how nice it is and pay their $5, is not going to make it for the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year it takes just to heat and maintain the property.”
The adaptive reuse study will hopefully identify a new way for the property to live on.
“This study is going to be identifying the potential opportunities for uses and to find ways to access public and private funds for the development and rehabilitation of the property,” said Blackmore.
“To find some long-term operational viability and sources of funding in order to let it stand with some security on its own feet as a project that has an ongoing life.”
Several consulting firms have already contacted the committee about the request for proposals, according to Blackmore.
“We haven’t got the answers yet, and who knows what the answers will be,” he said.
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman with the provincial Department of Transportation and Works told The Telegram seven companies have submitted proposals to tear down buildings at the site of the mill. In light of the impending demolition work, Blackmore said protecting Grand Falls House as a link to the community’s pulp and paper history becomes all the more essential.
“They came from far and wide to this community. We have people from all over Newfoundland ... that came here because of that mill. It changed the whole character of the Newfoundland fabric with that introduction of the newsprint mill, and (Grand Falls House) is the last standing vestige of it — this area set aside in the wilderness that’s cultivated with greenhouses and flowers. It’s beautiful. It’s like an oasis in a desert.”
The deadline for consultants to submit proposals is Aug. 29 at 4 p.m. Blackmore expects it will take six to eight months for the study to be completed.