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Edmonton’s Hangar 14 — an 86,000-square-foot, Second World War-era structure on the site of the former City Centre Airport — now faces an uncertain future, as the building is to be put up for sale by the City of Edmonton.
For the last 30 years, Hangar 14 has been home to the beloved Alberta Aviation Museum, and the sale of the historic building puts the museum at jeopardy.
While the museum leases Hangar 14 from the City of Edmonton, it is up to the city to take care of regular maintenance of the building. But a recent city administration report suggests that the aging building requires a number of repairs, or it could experience “critical asset failures” within five years. Those repairs, however, come at a price tag of $41 million, according to the report.
“The rehabilitation of Hangar 14 presents substantial cost risks, which are compounded by the need to align the rehabilitation with both the historic designations and climate resilience policy,” the report reads. “The more suitable option is to support the current operator in finding an alternate location and dispose of it.”
The city said its funds for the maintenance of heritage buildings are depleted, and adding the cost of the Hangar 14 renovations to the city’s 2023-2026 budget cycle would require the deferral of rehabilitation for 19 other facilities.
On July 4, councillors voted 11-2 in favor of the motion that administration “implement a disposition strategy that maintains the public museum use in Hangar 14, including but not limited to partnering with other orders of government and private partners,” the motion reads. That strategy is limited to a maximum of two years, “at which time disposition options without conditions would be pursued.”
In other words, a two-year timeline has been set for someone to buy Hangar 14 from the city, with the condition that the buyer allow the Alberta Aviation Museum to remain in the building for the next two years. After that time period, there will be no restrictions on the sale of the building.
Museum curator Ryan Lee said he was under the impression that the city was prepared to invest in the museum, rather than sell it.
“We renewed the lease in 2018 and signed another 25-year lease, so we fully expected to be here for at least another 25 years,” said Lee. “[The city has] been sending teams of engineers over the last several years to do these engineering reports on the building, which told us that they were really serious about investing in the building and keeping us here. And then we found out very recently that that wasn’t the case.”
Lee is also questioning how the city came up with a $41 million estimate for renovations.
“In the engineering report that we have, it’s $23 million spread over 20 years,” he said. “In the meeting, [city administration] said there was an immediate need for a $30 million upgrade. So I don’t quite understand the math.
“But essentially, our options are to find a buyer willing to invest $40 million into Hangar 14 and let us continue to stay here rent-free, or raise $30 to $40 million to build a new facility,” added Lee, noting that raising the required capital in two years would be nearly impossible.
City administration officials have said that support will be offered to the museum from a technical perspective, but the museum is on its own when it comes to fundraising.
“If we aren’t successful, Edmonton will lose a museum dedicated to telling the city’s story that’s taken 42 years to build,” said Lee.
Built during the Second World War, Hangar 14 is full of history. It served as an important training base, and following the war, 418 (City of Edmonton) Squadron operated from the hangar.
“Some of our volunteers were actually members of 418 Squadron, and they’ve been in this hangar since 1947,” noted Lee. “So [the building] has a lot of personal connections to the people here.”
Today, the Alberta Aviation Museum’s collection includes more than 30 aircraft, an extensive archive of over 40,000 artifacts and photographs, and a reference and research library with more than 5,000 titles. The museum is also home to the only Cranwell CLA.4 in the world – the first home-built aircraft in Edmonton.
Lee said moving the museum’s collection to another aviation museum in the province is not likely an option, as those museums are struggling to find storage space as it is.
And relocating the museum to a new building would be a “herculean project,” he said, as it would exceed the capacity of a non-profit museum with less than 10 full-time staff and a number of volunteers.
With limited options, the museum said it is looking to meet with city administration in the coming days to determine next steps — which will hopefully lead to a solution to save the museum and its collected history.