Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Slippery Slope

David Nielsen, in his September 4th letter to the Free Press, informs us that the former Victoria Hospital building on South Street should be demolished. His reasons include lack of air conditioning, not enough floor space and possible violation of the fire code.

His most interesting reason, however, involves sloping floors. "If you had ever pushed a wheelchair there, you would quickly realize the building is sinking toward the river. By now, the floors may have sloped several inches to the south."

David says he used to work there but doesn't say in what capacity. Doctor? Janitor? Candystriper? Is he an expert on building codes? Did he quit nursing to go into architecture?

Question: Is a building with sloping floors inherently unsafe? If so, my elementary school in Prescott, Ontario should have been condemned years ago. The hallway had such a steep slope that you started Grade One about a foot higher than when you graduated from Grade Eight. I don't think the building was in danger of collapsing. Granted, the school was a bungalow and nowhere near a river.

But what about all those medieval buildings you see in Britain and Europe, the ones standing at rakish angles, leaning over, looking a little drunk? I've seen streets in English villages where every house must have sloping floors. I slept in a 15th century B&B in Cambridgeshire where the foot of the bed was lower than the pillows.

Of course all these buildings are shored up, well looked after, not abandoned and ignored. And that's the main difference between them and South Street. Leave any building empty and its problems will quickly grow worse. That's the real reason South Street may be past saving - not because its floors are sloping but because the City of London is once again practising demolition by neglect.

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