Photo of one of the PR Townhouses by Jenny Fisher.
Photo of one of the PR Townhouses by Jenny Fisher.

The Peter Robinson Townhouses, located on George St near Parkhill, were sold in March of 2015 to a local property owner who has several holdings in other heritage buildings.

The PR Townhouses were the primary residences for the former Peter Robinson college. They were designed by renowned Canadian modern architect Bill Lett and are a notable piece of architectural history in Peterborough. The townhouses, along with Sadleir House, Peter Robinson Place (aka Reid House), and the Cottage were all sold by Trent University in 2002. The downtown colleges and the properties they have become are seen as institutions with the potential to connect downtown life with the university.

Up until the sale, the townhouses were being rented as affordable student housing. There are currently single-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, as well as four and six bedroom units. The new owner has indicated plans to renovate the townhouses and change the make-up of bedrooms and units.

The Peterborough Student Co-operative has had an arrangement with Zeh-Abramsky for the past 4 years to refer Trent University students to the townhouses for rentals. Since the sale, the Co-op has yet to meet with the new owner of the property but Elizabeth Thipphawong, coordinator of the Co-op, in an interview with Arthur indicated that they are very interested in maintaining the referral agreement that existed with Zeh-Abramsky. Thipphawong said, “We have a sentimental attachment to the building, of course, and we want to see students thriving there.”

While referrals to the townhouses are a major initiative of the Peterborough Student Coop’s, their mandate more broadly defined. Their goal is to provide safe and affordable housing for student and community members, and in doing so bridge the gap between campus and downtown. In this regard, they are first and foremost an advocacy group which works for the realization of renters’ rights. Even without an agreement with the PR Townhouses, the Co-op has plans to continue advocacy and begin new programming on housing rights in the Fall.

This sale comes following an announcement last summer by the Peterborough Student Housing Co-operative and the PR Community and Student Association (PRCSA), who were looking for alumni donations to purchase the townhouses back. The PRCSA would have needed upwards of $1 million to purchase and renovate the townhouses. The understanding between former owner Gabriele Zeh-Abramsky and PRCSA was that the group had five-years to raise the funds. Unfortunately, these plans had to be abandoned due to unforeseen circumstances.

The townhouses are a major investment for housing geared toward the Trent community. While their maintenance and overhead costs are significant, there is a potential for significant returns. The new management and fresh ideas may make the property profitable at last.

[Update April 10, 2015: This article originally credited Ron Thom with the design of the Townhouses. They were in fact designed by Bill Lett, who worked closely with Thom. Lett also designed Blackburn Hall, and numerous buildings around Peterborough.]