By LANA MICHELIN, ADVOCATE STAFF The provincially owned J.J. Gaetz house has been empty since 2005.

Red Deer residents worry heritage J.J. Gaetz house is deteriorating through neglect

City has wanted to purchase historic home from province since 2012

It’s been a dozen years since Red Deer’s historically designated J.J. Gaetz house was mothballed by the province.

And it’s looking the worse for wear.

Big wet spots now appear on the sagging roof of one of the last original farmhouses within city limits.

Alberta Infrastructure spokesman Dallas Huybregts confirmed a new roof is needed on the heritage home, which was closed in 2005 and fenced off. Huybregts expects the roof project will be done in the next couple of years.

Meanwhile, “we’re monitoring the house” to ensure it doesn’t deteriorate further, he said.

But the worsening condition of the empty structure on 55th Street, just east of the Red Deer Cemetery, dismays people who have been trying for years to preserve it. This includes City of Red Deer planning director Tara Lodewyk, who’s been writing to the province since 2012 in hopes the municipality can purchase the Edwardian-style residence.

“The Gaetz house is near and dear to the community’s heart,” said Lodewyk. It’s a municipally designated historic resource, but can’t be renovated by the city because it continues to be owned by the Province of Alberta.

The house was built in 1918 by the nephew of Red Deer founder Leonard Gaetz. John Jost Gaetz was a successful farmer and MLA, who donated land for the cemetery and Alberta’s first “Dominion Bird Sanctuary,” now Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary.

Although there are 380 city sites with historic value, none are like this house, said Janet Pennington, Red Deer’s heritage development co-ordinator. “It’s something we would love to have.” The home has links to Red Deer’s early days and Michener Centre as it was used as an agricultural training school for centre residents.

One hang-up in talks between the city and province is the house sits on a strip of land stretching along the sanctuary escarpment, nearly to Clearview Ridge. And Lodewyk said the province wants to study this property and outbuildings for contamination and other hazards from past operations.

But no timeline has been set for the completion of these studies — leaving local historian Michael Dawe worried neglect will push the J.J. Gaetz residence past the point of repair.

If a building has historic designation, then it’s the owner’s responsibility to preserve it, Dawe stressed.

Alberta Infrastructure is willing to look at proposed future uses for the residence, said Huybregts.

Although ReThink Red Deer previously suggested turning the property into an urban agriculture educational facility, the house needs repairs.

And Lodewyk questioned the feasibility of anyone investing in a property that’s owned and controlled by someone else.

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