ReThink Red Deer wants to officially save historic J.J. Gaetz house

The non-profit group proposes turning it into a sustainable urban demo farm

ReThink Red Deer is officially submitting a proposal to turn the J.J. Gaetz heritage house and grounds into an urban farming centre — although the property’s future ownership is uncertain.

Project leader Rene Michalak wants to help save the home that has municipal historic designation, but is falling into disrepair. It’s been sitting empty on provincial land next to the Red Deer Cemetery and Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary as the city tries to reach an agreement to purchase the property.

“If we can save it, as a community, then we really should,” said Michalak.

The Edwardian home, built in 1918 by John Jost Gaetz, a nephew of Red Deer founder Leonard Gaetz, occupies a strip of land that stretches from 55th Street north along the Gaetz Lakes escarpment, almost to Clearview Ridge.

In 2013, ReThink Red Deer put forward an informal proposal to turn this property into sustainable plots for a demonstration urban farm. Vegetable and perennial plots, an edible garden and some animal farming were suggested, while the house could be turned into community and office space.

Since the property’s future was up in the air, the proposal was in limbo for several years.

Although there’s no word yet on when the City of Red Deer can purchase the property, an Alberta Infrastructure spokesman indicated in April that the government was ready to consider proposals for it.

Michalak met with provincial officials early last month to confirm the non-profit group is still interested in going ahead with the urban sustainable demonstration farm project. Michalak was invited to present a detailed proposal, which will submit this summer.

“I’ll also let the City of Red Deer know, ” to keep the municipality in the loop, he said.

Michalak is concerned that the Gaetz house, mothballed by the province in 2005, is still “sitting idle.” He would like to see it used as a community space, like the Cronquist House in Bower Ponds. He noted some interest was already expressed by the Kerry Wood Nature Centre and other local groups who want it for program space.

Since the provincial government has no immediate plans to fix the leaking roof, Michalak hopes to get approval to access the land as soon as possible, so ReThink Red Deer can apply for grants to start the badly needed repairs.

The home, known as Willow Villa, was formerly used by the Michener Centre, then by the Christmas Bureau and Red Deer Doll Club.

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