For a century, it has been one of Woolwich’s most iconic and recognizable structures. Over the years, it served as a police station, a post office, and, most notably, as the Woolwich Township hall. Following the township’s move to new digs on Church Street, 69 Arthur St. S. remained vacant for a few years, with only its famous clock tower remaining active.
That finally changed in July, when the building got a new lease on life. The Elmira Wellness Centre brings together local health specialists in a one-stop destination for fitness, hypnotherapy, massage, holistic nutrition, naturopathic medicine, bra fitting, and nail painting.
“It’s nice to have us all under one roof,” said Juliane Shantz, owner of the building. “And I love healthcare, so I really am truly loving having us all here.”
With a grand opening set for October 26, the Elmira Wellness Centre is finally bringing to a close a yearlong renovation process designed to preserve the building’s historic integrity while also bringing it headfirst into the 21st century.
An Elmira native and doctor of audiology, Shantz ran her ear and hearing clinic for 16 years in Elmira, not far from her new home, before deciding she needed to take over the long-vacant building.
“I started at the Elmira Medical Office just across the street,” Shantz remembered. “I just quickly ran out of space there, because it’s tiny there, and I needed another place to go to.”
She continued, “I was looking around town for an office, and I met [massage therapist] Krista Sandelli, who I share this office with – we’re the co-owners of Elmira Wellness Centre. We didn’t know each other prior to that, but we both needed a place to go.”
Shantz and Sandelli spent 13 years renting space behind W.C. Brown & Sons Menswear in Elmira, and then started looking at other options. “I just decided it was too tight there,” said Shantz. “We only had 900 square feet for about 15 staff, and it was just way too small.
“Then I started looking around town,” she continued. “I was looking for a long time – there had been nothing available that was suitable. Then this building was for sale for quite a while, about three years, and I finally just took a look at it and said, ‘Hey, I like this.’ I got Van-Del Contracting involved to see how much it would cost to renovate the building, and if I could afford it, and go from there.”
The town hall had been for sale since 2009, after Woolwich declared the building surplus. Council heard bids from various private business owners at their meeting on February 7, 2012, eventually settling on the proposal from Shantz and Sandelli.
“I loved the historic features of it,” Shantz remembered. “It was a really good project to work on.”
With help from Bloomingdale-based Van-Del Contracting, work began on renovations later that year. When asked to describe the construction process from beginning to end, Shantz and supervising contractor Andrew Robinson become overwhelmed.
“From the beginning, we had to more or less clean out all the old,” said Robinson.
“Old cupboards, old carpets, old ceilings…” interjected Shantz.
“There were bathrooms back here in the office that we re-arranged…”
“…the little stall bathrooms had to be removed…”
“…gut everything, every room, down to the original,” said Robinson. “Especially where the elevator shaft was, we had to take the old down and take the floors out, then build it back up as we were renovating the rest of the building.
“Upstairs more or less stayed intact,” he added. “We never really touched the upstairs, we just painted.” They did, however, re-install a flagpole to the roof that had been present 100 years ago, but had been out of commission for decades.
The most time-consuming challenge involved replacing the building’s badly-dated elevator with a newer, faster model – a process that took six months.
“The elevator was a huge challenge, because it was too small and we had to make it bigger,” said Robinson. “We had to dig down and undermine everything. It was a long process, but that was the main structural change.”
These challenges paled in comparison to dealing with an enormous safe left over from the building’s post office days, which had to be moved to clear the way for a reception desk. “It was right in the centre of the floor plan,” said Shantz. “Andrew and his team had to take it apart, piece by piece, which took a long time.”
The door now hangs in the building’s main foyer. “The door was an inch and a half thick, solid steel,” said Robinson. “We had to actually wench it up and weld it to the wall, and it had to be structurally engineered.”
Care was taken to preserve as much of the building’s historic value as possible. The unique wood paneling of the former council chambers remains intact, and much of the discarded material found new life. “The bricks and everything we took out of the original elevator shaft, we re-used those all the way up through the project,” said Robinson.
Staying in touch with the building’s historical legacy is what led to a call from Elmira resident Joe Kelly – the keeper of the clock tower.
“He comes in and winds it twice a week,” said Shantz. “He said, ‘I’ll continue to do it if you want.’ I said, ‘Great.’ He and his family have been doing it for generations already.”
“My father-in-law had done it since 1970, and I took it over in 1984,” said Joe Kelly. “It’s one of those things you can take for granted, but I love it, because it’s a piece of art. You go to a gallery and you see a piece of art, and you see the brushstrokes. Well, I see the brushstrokes of the man who had to cut the gears all in sequence, from seconds to weeks to an hour.
“This brass was the last of the brass before the First World War. There wasn’t a clock made like this in 1915. There was in 1914.”
Once the renovations were done and the building was ready to open, getting the various health and wellness businesses onboard was “super easy,” said Shantz.
“I don’t know if it’s just being in a small town with word of mouth, but people just keep calling and looking at this space, and we’re all in the same area of interest.”
Businesses have been operating out of the Elmira Wellness Centre since July, but the grand opening is scheduled for October 26, 1-4 p.m. Guests are expected to include Woolwich Mayor Todd Cowan, Woolwich CAO David Brenneman, Region of Waterloo Chair Ken Seiling, Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris, and MP Harold Albrecht. There will be live jazz music, a ceremonial council meeting in the old chambers led by Cowan, and the eight tenants will be on hand to greet visitors from the community.
“Come on in and take a look around and meet everyone,” said Shantz. “By meeting everyone, you’ll be in a very relaxed environment, and it will feel very welcoming.
“It’s open for anyone,” she continued. “And actually, we do have a boardroom upstairs that can be rented by the community.”
As for the future, there is still space available for one or two more businesses on the second floor. She hopes to expand into tinnitus retraining therapy and dizziness and balance areas. There are still signs to be installed in the front of the building, and there is the option of doing something with the basement (which, once upon a time, was a firing range for the Elmira police). “There’s always sort of something to be done,” said Shantz. “Just little things here and there, maintaining it.”
For history buffs, the best is yet to come: Shantz is hoping to create a historical wall in the main foyer, with pictures of the building’s 100-year history surrounding the preserved safe door.
“I would love it if anyone from the community would offer more history, or show me pictures. I’m looking for input on that,” she said.
Along with those plans for building, she’ll also be concentrating on the centre’s primary goal: wellness.
“I think to just keep doing what we’re doing,” she said of the day-to-day focus. “Just helping and serving people in a healthcare environment.”