Rev. James Murray says the planned Carleton deal would save Dominion-Chalmers United Church for worship. Photo: Max Nease, Centretown News

City gives Carleton its blessing for Dominion-Chalmers church plan

By Connor Oke

 Negotiations are continuing in Carleton University’s plan to take over Centretown’s Dominion-Chalmers United Church after a decision by Ottawa city council put the project one step closer to completion.

Councillors approved a motion unanimously at its Feb. 28 meeting to rezone the church, allowing it to be used as a post-secondary facility and arts venue.

Carleton has been formally negotiating to purchase the church since early December, and intends to use the historic Cooper Street building as a performance space for theatre and music in the community.

Mayor Jim Watson indicated his personal support for the project.

“It’s a great opportunity for the academic world to collide in a positive way with the local arts scene,” Watson said. “A lot of residents in the downtown core will be able to literally walk and see a performance by the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra, or Thirteen Strings, or Carleton students. It’s literally in their backyard, and it also helps preserve a beautiful historic building.”

Final details on the takeover are still being negotiated, according to Rev. James Murray, the church’s pastor. He declined to give specifics for legal reasons.

According to a statement released by Carleton, the school is now also looking into some environmental issues surrounding the church. Once these issues are resolved and the negotiations are completed, the school will need to schedule upgrades to bring the building up to code with city bylaws, and prepare it for its new role as a university hub.

The school is also looking to work with local community groups to gather input and encourage community use of the facility.

Former Carleton president Roseann O’Reilly Runte, who spearheaded the school’s push to acquire the church during her time as president, said the building will be used as a recording studio, art gallery and public lecture hall, in addition to its role as a performance space.

“Universities are commonly being asked these days to reach out to their communities; to do experiential and engaged learning,” Runte said by e-mail. “This space can be a convenient gathering spot to facilitate such programs.”

Carleton’s proposal for the church has received backing from the Centretown Citizens Community Association, which wrote a letter to council before the Feb. 28 meeting indicating its support for the project.

“We think the purchase of the church by Carleton represents a really unique opportunity to build upon the diversity and extent of services offered in our neighbourhood,” said CCCA president Tom Whillans. “It’s to everyone’s detriment that we lose heritage buildings and the character of the neighbourhood.”

Additionally, according to Murray and a report from the city’s planning committee, once Carleton acquires the building, the church’s religious services will continue. The church administration will be moving into smaller office space, and then will rent the use of the sanctuary and meeting rooms, so that its programs will continue as they are now. There won’t be any alterations to the building’s exterior.

Dominion-Chalmers approached Carleton about acquiring the property after maintenance costs became too high for the shrinking congregation to manage.

“It’s a landmark of Ottawa and it’s a part of the culture and community,” Murray said. “The congregation dates back 200 years, right back to the beginnings of Ottawa itself. It’s such an architectural treasure, to see it demolished for condominiums would be a real loss for the whole city.”