Five Local Architectural Companies Work at Red Deer's Old Courthouse
Posted: Monday, April 30th 2012
John Hull will sit in the jury box every day until he retires.
It may sound like a long trial is ahead of him, but he’s actually doing it for work.
The Red Deer architect has just moved his office into the former courtroom of the old Red Deer Courthouse at 4836 50th St. He, along with staff from four other firms, are now in the second floor space where they can work corroboratively on architectural projects.
Hull, who recently worked on the Ronald McDonald House-Central Alberta construction project, teamed up with another architect for this latest business venture.
Grace Zhang recently started her own firm Grace Architecture. She leased the space as part of her working partnership with Hull.
They are excited to be working in a room with its own macabre place in Alberta’s legal history.
The courthouse opened in 1931 and nearly 30 years later, it became the place where a verdict was reached on the province’s last hanging. Despite being implicated in the deaths of his father, stepmother and the couple’s five children. Robert Raymond Cook was only charged with the murder of his father in order to speed trial processions. The 23-year-old was hanged in Fort Saskatchewan on Nov. 15, 1960.
“Somebody asked whether I was going to be nervous about the ghosts in the courthouse,” said Hull, smiling.
The courtroom still has the witness stand and the expansive judge’s box. A coat of arms is positioned high above, where the last judge would have sat in 1983. A clock, still running and dated back to around 1931, is featured over the doorway.
Dick McDonell, one of the building’s co-owners, said this was the last courthouse to be built of its kind in Alberta because the Depression was starting to hit. The original boiler was built in 1912, removed from an abandoned ship.
“We’re really happy to have John and Grace in there because it’s been an awful time trying to get that space rented,” McDonell said. “It’s been vacant for most of the last 10-and-a-half years.”
The building has no elevator access. Plus, the courtroom itself has high ceilings so people like lawyers and accountants don’t like the space for privacy reasons, McDonell said.
Zhang had new carpets installed, the walls and moulding painted, plus new electrical wiring was put in. Nine bookshelves had to be assembled.
She’s looking forward to working with this new team.
“The idea is for us to exchange knowledge and give support to each other,” said Zhang, who’s worked on major projects including the G.H.Dawe Centre and the Donald School of Business renovations.
Wendi Ronspies Design Inc., O’Connor Consulting and Supreme Engineering Group have also moved in. Nine people will be part of this new collaboration. The group does a variety of healthcare, commercial and other projects.
The space is great because it’s open so there can be lots of discussion back and forth. Plus, the large windows help stream in a lot of daylight.
Eleven years ago, Hull was the man behind renovations at the courthouse. The City of Red Deer had sold the building to McDonell and James Dixon. The two men were looking to convert the building into commercial space after it had previously been an art gallery and art studios.
Hull oversaw the project that included restoring the old flooring, refinishing of woodwork, and ensuring it was brought up to code.
“This is a (provincial designated) heritage building and the courtroom is one of the interior rooms that cannot be touched,” said Hull. “All the woodwork had to be left.”