The Leroux Mansion sits in faded glory, waiting for renovation.  James Snell/The Free Press

The Leroux Mansion sits in faded glory, waiting for renovation. James Snell/The Free Press

Fernie’s million dollar heritage boondoggle

Renovation work on Fernie’s historical Leroux Mansion, a work of late Victorian Gothic architecture, has stopped, according to a WorkSafeBC statement.

“The owner of the building, and their contractor contacted WorkSafeBC earlier this year about what was required before renovations could begin at the site,” said Ralph Eastman, Media Relations, with WorkSafeBC in a statement. “They were told that before any work can be undertaken on the structure, the site must be assessed by a qualified person to determine the extent of asbestos contamination. This has been completed.”

Leroux Mansion co-owner Dr. Amos Kahane said in a phone interview that the project, which has cooperation from the City of Fernie, has become buried in a mountain of WorkSafeBC red tape and bureaucracy.

“We are having a lot frustrations,” he said. “Right now the main issue is asbestos removal. It’s a never-ending story. We don’t have a lot of good feedback from WorkSafeBC. We thought that after we did our due diligence, and sent one of our guys for training, that would be enough. [Our] construction guy took the two courses that were supposed to be enough in order for him to remove the asbestos and to supervise any other people.”

Kahane and his partners also got a list of required materials for asbestos removal “basically approved by WorkSafeBC.” They carried out sampling, which was expensive.

“We paid a lot for the course, and we paid a lot for the material,” he explained. “Then for whatever reason, WorkSafeBC said ‘you are qualified, but we don’t know you. You don’t have experience.’ Based on this, they basically just shut us down, and the guy [who we hired] got injured. That took him out of the equation. There’s no end. There was another company from Cranbrook who said ‘we can’t do it.’”

Kahane and his partners began looking for a contractor in Alberta, but were again left frustrated.

“We did that,” he said. “Eventually, through a long, long, long process we found someone from Alberta. They started, and they made a mess. They were supposed to be monitoring, because you have to have a third party to monitor what the people are doing. They [WorkSafeBC] said ‘they [the contractors] are not respecting the regulations.’ After almost eight weeks we had to let them go. Now we are back to square one.”

“It’s just a never-ending loop,” he lamented. “I think it’s a big scam. That’s what I think it is. I think they are making it way more than what it is. When we did the sampling, they said it was a moderate risk. Now after this company from Alberta did what it did – removing the plaster – which in a lot of cases just had horse hair in it, there was no asbestos in it. Now because they removed it, and they exposed the lath, now the company from Cranbrook said it is high risk. I think this stuff just has to be stopped.”

WorkSafeBC said the asbestos in the building must be removed or contained by a qualified abatement contractor.