Mindemoya—If there was ever a conundrum, it’s what to do with the old school house building in Mindemoya. Opened in 1921, the former consolidated (housing Grades 1 to 12) school building was slated for closure by Central Manitoulin Council due to anticipated extensive and expensive repairs and retrofits needed to bring the building up to code. But a proposed motion to send out a request for proposals for demolition brought outcries from across the Island and a council chamber filled to capacity with protestors.

It was decided at that meeting to establish a Mindemoya Old School Repurposing Committee (MOSRC) to look at ways and means of keeping the old school and turn it into a viable operation. Members of the committee are Mayor Stephens who sits on all Central Manitoulin Council committees, Jan McQuay, Joanne Smith, Ted Williamson, Sam Bondi, Hal Love and councillors Linda Farquhar and Alex Baran.

This committee met on November 14 and the first order of business was to elect a chairperson with Ted Williamson taking on the position.

Mr. Williamson’s first act as chair was to inform the committee that all municipal buildings would have to comply with the Accessibility Act by 2025. This led to a series of questions by members including whether a privately owned building falls under the act as well as retail buildings and the holding of a long-term lease. To these questions Mayor Stephens replied in the affirmative and Councillor Alex Baran outlined the requirements that were needed by the owner of the newly refurbished old Home Hardware building in Providence Bay including a ramp access and a bathroom up to code.

Ms. Farquhar noted that the old school house is accessible now with a lift and a required bathroom on the second floor. When Mr. Williamson commented that he was not aware of this, Ms. McQuay suggested that the members take a tour of the building when the meeting was over. It should be noted that a request is already in place for council to approve the taking of parts from the old school house lift to repair the lift in the Mindemoya community hall.

Mr. Williamson then posed the question to Mayor Stephens as to whether the township would lease the building at a minimum amount, but a definitive answer could not be given as only three council members were present. Mr. Williamson also suggested that the municipality fix the school’s roof so as to sweeten the pot. “Everyone wants to see the building standing and viable,” he added.

The committee was reminded that the members have until October 2018 to develop a financially viable proposal with Ms. McQuay outlining that the report has to go to the Financial and Economic Development (FED) committee. As well, monthly progress reports are to be made.

Ms. McQuay asked if there was money available for the committee for such things as travel expenses or, in fact, whether a budget had been assigned. Mayor Stephens replied that no money had been assigned, but the request could certainly be made and noted that most projects in Central Manitoulin started with seed money.

Ms. McQuay explained to the committee that there was new money available for assisted living and said that the committee should certainly look into that. She also noted that Jarlette is actually using a schoolhouse in Gore Bay for an assisted living building.

The next order of business as noted by Ms. McQuay was to talk about who the committee could talk to for advice and how similar projects were done. Several names came up as well as organizations including the Architectural Conservancy in Collingwood, Steve McLaughlin, who has done renovations himself, LAMBAC, members of the Historical Society, Heritage Property Evaluation, the person responsible for the revamping of the Gore Bay wharf building, FEDNOR, the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, MP Carol Hughes and MPP Mike Mantha, LHIN, Derek Graham, the president and CEO of the Manitoulin Health Centre, and the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care as well as the Manitoulin Planning Board. It was decided that each member would contact these people with Mr. Bondi suggesting that they see if some of these people would come to the MOSRC meetings.

Mr. Williamson said that the next step would be to try to come up with a viable operation and Mayor Stephens agreed, saying, “That will open the door to finances.” The mayor also asked if there was any merit in going to social media and asking people if they have any ideas for the school with Councillor Farquhar saying, “That is a great idea.”

Mr. Williamson then outlined his ideas for the building.  He would start with the top floor and turn the four classrooms into eight efficiency style units that would be used by people attending the venues the Island offers such as Country Fest, the Blue Grass Festival and Ride Manitoulin with the idea that this could cover operating costs or pay off debt incurred. He would also have rented office space in the basement.

Ms. McQuay asked if perhaps the building could be used for college or adult education courses and added that the members should talk with First Nation people to see if they could dovetail with the new trade school underway in M’Chigeeng.

“If I had a million dollars,” Ms. Farquhar told the committee, “this is what I would do.” She started with the top floor where an art gallery would be featured on one side and would include work done by First Nations artists. She noted that there are a lot of little rooms and she would have a different theme for each one such as a 50s room and an old schoolroom. She would also try to get an optometrist to come to Mindemoya and would a have a drop-in centre for seniors. For the basement level, Councillor Farquhar envisions a wonderful gym, perhaps with a small track. Other areas would be used for office space.

Mr. Bondi noted that there will have to be initial infrastructure upgrading. “Who will pay for that?” he asked. “All these have to be done before anyone will be interested, all the infrastructure will have to be done.”

The meeting ended with the mayor saying, “The building has historic worth and purpose and we have to find a particular use for it.”

The next MOSRC meeting will be December 12.

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