Alberni homelessness advocacy group vies for old post office building

The former post office on Argyle Street in Port Alberni has been declared federal surplus property and a local homeless advocacy group is maneuvering to get it.

The former post office on Argyle Street has been declared federal surplus property and a local homelessness advocacy group is maneuvering to get it.

Community Stakeholders Initiative to End Homelessness member Myron Jespersen confirmed the development. “We’re definitely interested,” he said. “We need an agency to take this lead on this now.”

CSI was informed of the surplus designation last week and has until Sept. 8 to submit a letter of interest in the property, Jespersen said.

The Surplus Federal Real Property For Homelessness Initiative makes federal property available to community organizatioins, non-profit groups and other levels of government for projects that reduce homelessness for $1.

Kuu-us Crisis Line Society obtained the former armoury property on Johnston Road for transitional housing and other programs last year under the same program.

The Argyle Street building’s sole tenant is the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which will be moving out soon. The building is listed for sale at $1.3 million, which is down from the $1.6 million price tag earlier in this and in previous years.

CSI is not an implementing agency and needs help to advance the issue further, Jespersen said. “We need to find an agency that can take the lead on this, commit with an objective, then negotiate a contract with SFRPFHI to implement that objective,” he said.

While CSI is not an implementing agency it has experience with the issue, fleshing out an idea and proposal writing, so it can help a lead agency navigate through the process, he added.

The building is large and has possibilities but nothing has been decided about what it could house, Jespersen said. “We’re at the stage of saying “Whose got an idea””.

Fifteen members of CSI toured the building last week. “Looking at it helped turn the wheels and got us thinking about some ideas,” Jespersen said.

The building was built in the 1950s and its age presents some challenges, he added.

A 2010 assessment reports that there is asbestos-containing materials present but they are in good condition. As well, there are PCB-containing light ballasts in some areas, as well as suspected lead paint sealed under other paint.

The issue is typical with older buildings, Jespersen said. “If there is a major renovation then that disturbs the material and someone would have to be called to coordinate how that’s dealt with safely.”

The Federal Heritage Building Review Office, which evaluates all federal buildings 40 years of age or older in order to determine heritage character, has assigned a heritage designation to the building because of its history, architectural qualities and environmental significance.

The designation is light and not hard and fixed, Jespersen said. “It has more to do with the look of the building,” he said. “They’ve asked that whoever gets it preserve that look and some of the interior as well.”