Firefighters won’t go inside former Cornwall Aardvark if it catches fire: chief

A pickup truck drives by the site of the former Aardvark nightclub at 33 First Street East in Cornwall, Ont. Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. The city's fire chief says there would be no offensive attack if a blaze broke out in the abandoned building but firefighters would keep the flames from spreading to neighbouring buildings. The building was brought up during a budget discussion about abandoned buildings. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – A once-popular nightclub in Cornwall would most likely burn completely if it ever caught fire because firefighters will not go inside the building.

That assessment Friday as the city’s budget committee heard about the status of its vacant building stock.

Chief Building Official Chris Rogers said there were 44 buildings deemed vacant last year and that number had jumped to 50. But the good news is, 24 of them are “deemed or are about to be demoed or reoccupied.”

Coun. Claude McIntosh zeroed in on one building in the downtown core – the former Aardvark nightclub at 33 First Street East – saying the building has not done well and the floor inside may be falling out.

Budget chairman Denis Carr called the interior “dangerous” and questioned what would happen if there was a fire.

“That will be a defensive fight,” Fire Chief Pierre Voisine said, indicating his men would not go inside the building to put out a fire, save and except a cursory search for squatters on the premises.

A defensive attack has firefighters protecting neighbouring buildings, which may mean sacrificing a building on fire.

Chief Building Official Chris Rogers says the owner of the Aardvark, who “owns some businesses in town,” has complied with the city’s demands that the building be boarded up properly with “tamper-proof screws.”

But councillors expressed frustration they couldn’t do more.

“I wish we could,” Rogers said. “It was our belief after 10 years (we could) take it down. We don’t have that right,” he said. The city received legal advice when crafting its bylaw governing abandoned buildings, that a forced demolition and charging it back to the owner would be overstepping its authority.

The city is hopeful the bylaw, in conjunction with phasing out the vacancy tax rebate program for commercial and industrial properties by 2020, will force property owners to do something with their unkempt buildings.

The 33 First Street East building, home to the Aardvark in the 1980s, was sold in 2006 for tax arrears for a minimum tender amount of just over $160,000, according an Ontario government publication.