Central denies Old School committee extension

Central Manitoulin Old School.

MINDEMOYA—The municipality of Central Manitoulin denied the request to extend the mandate of the Mindemoya Old School Repurposing Committee (MOSRC) for five years at the October 24 meeting of council. The extension was for the committee to explore more options and other avenues of funding for the Old School building.

At the October 17 meeting of the Finance and Economic Development (FED) committee, MOSRC member Joanne Smith asked for this extension. She began her presentation by saying that the Old School issue, “unfortunately, has become a we/they situation. It seems to be a battle of economic progress versus preservation of our heritage, of modern versus traditional, of one community against another. There is no reason that a balance of economic progress and the preservation of heritage cannot be achieved. Given that our primary collective purpose is to make decisions that are best for the entire community, hopefully we can arrive at a decision that is agreeable and beneficial to everyone.”

Ms. Smith went on to say that council had said that any new businesses created could not compete with any other business currently within the community. Ironically, Tulloch Engineering, which did the Old School feasibility study, suggested a gym be installed. (There are currently two gyms located in Mindemoya.)

Council also said that a second mandate be one of economic self-sufficiency. This threw out the MOSRC ideas for a space for the Horticultural Society, a seniors’ centre, an art gallery, a consignment store and more. To this, Ms. Smith noted that, “It is worth realizing that no other public building in our township has ever been economically self-sustaining; not the arenas, not the community halls, not the fire halls, not the school, not the library and certainly not the council chambers. We all pay taxes to provide the services and benefits rendered by these buildings and offices and do not expect them to pay for themselves in any other way.”

Ms. Smith outlined the accomplishments of the committee to date including creating a greater public awareness of the issues involved, a petition that has over 800 names in support of saving the Old School, an evaluation showing that the building is structurally sound and a detailed cost-analysis of re-purposing the building. As well, architectural interior drawings for a potential retrofit were done and Manitoulin Transport has offered to donate money to replace the roof to keep re-purposing viable.

“Next year,” Ms. Smith told council, “the Old School will be 100 years old. At that time, it appears that other grants for heritage and cultural will become available for the project which will likely include some or all of our original proposals”

Ms. Smith then spoke of another scenario. The Old School, she said, rests on a lot that is too small to make it available for private sale. Should the proposed multi-use-complex become a reality, “our present arena would be demolished. If the complex were to be built in some other location, such as on land adjacent to the public school, the arena lot could become the additional area needed to make the Old School a saleable commodity. This would release the municipality from the responsibilities of being a landlord. In the town of St. Mary’s, a developer recently made an obsolete stone school into condominiums which were instantly purchased by the town’s residents. A third scenario would be to integrate the Old School into the design of the proposed new complex.”

“The arbitrary date set by council for us to exist as a committee is set for November 30,” Ms. Smith continued. “The rush to destroy the building has never been made clear to us. With the installation of a new roof, and given the sound structural integrity of the building there seems to be no need to hurry with a decision to tear the building down. Our township has made great strides in business expansion over the past several years, but little has been done in the way of cultural or aesthetic improvement. Each council must have a vision for its municipality that includes the protection of heritage and culture.”

The municipality did, however, vote down the request for an extension of the MOSRC mandate at the October 24 council meeting.

Councillor Linda Farquhar was the first person to speak on this, saying, “I am supporting the motion. The committee did not want to interfere with the feasibility study. I do not agree with the motion that it will interfere with other councils.”

Councillor Derek Stephens, who has always opposed the repurposing of the Old School, then said, “They did not get anything done. There were extensions over and over. The building is past its life. It will cost over $2 million to redo that building.”

Councillor Farquhar took exception to Councillor Stephen’s figure of $2 million saying that this was not the estimate given by Tulloch Engineering. Mayor Richard Stephens spoke in favour of extending the mandate for the MOSRC. “The reason for the five years was made quite clear,” he asserted. He also reminded council that the engineers had said that the school was solidly built and is as good as when it was built.

Councillor Steve Shaffer commented that he had received many emails, texts and phone calls around this issue. He said that the mandate of the committee had been fulfilled when the Tulloch Engineering MOSRC feasibility report was received and was therefore against the extension.

Councillor Al Tribinevicius spoke of the donation to be made by Manitoulin Transport for a new roof for the school if the extension is granted. He suggested that a steel roof be installed for “a longer time to repurpose the building. No shingles. I support keeping an open mind about repurposing that building.” This was when Mayor Stephens added that if a private donor is willing to give the MOSRC $25,000 for a new roof, then the committee felt that they needed a five year extension.

“I have some concern with the five year request,” Councillor Dale Scott then said. “I have reservations about it. It took me by surprise when I heard ‘five years’.”

The discussion ended with Mayor Stephens stating that he hoped the iconic school building would be preserved. Councillor Farquhar asked for a recorded vote and the motion to extend the mandate of the MOSRC was defeated. Councillors Shaffer, Scott, Angela Johnston and Stephens voted against the motion and Councillors Farquhar, Tribinevicius and Mayor Stephens voted to give the school committee an extension to explore more options and avenues of funding as the building attains heritage status next year.