Council denies request for extension of timeline for Old School Repurposing Committee to explore its options

Councillors in the Municipality of Central Manitoulin recently voted to not extend the mandate of the Mindemoya Old School Repurposing Committee, a move that divided community members and led to the resignation of a councillor.

MINDEMOYA—Central Manitoulin council has denied a request to extend the mandate of the Mindemoya Old School Repurposing Committee (MOSRC) for five years in order to allow the committee to explore more options for its use and other avenues of funding for the Mindemoya Old School building.

In a recorded vote of 4-2, council turned down the request at a meeting last week.

When the motion was first raised at the council meeting Councillor Linda Farquhar said, “I will be supporting this motion. I sat on the (MOSRC),” noting that “we didn’t want to interfere with their (Tulloch Engineering) study work. Now that their study is complete we would like to explore other funding sources and options.” She pointed out a local philanthropist had indicated he would provide funding for a new roof for the Old School.

“When council gave the (MOSRC) an extension previously, they still could not find a use for the building,” countered Councillor Derek Stephens. He suggested that, should this new extension be approved, the committee would probably request an even further extension. “It is a waste of taxpayers’ money to continue and there has been no purpose found for the building. It would cost $2 million to rebuild the Old School. I don’t think this is taxpayers’ money being well spent.”

Mayor Richard Stephens pointed out, “the reason a request has been made for an extension of five years to the committee’s mandate is, as it was made clear at a meeting last week (at the finance and economic development committee), Joanne (Smith, a member of the MOSRC) said a donation has been made by a local philanthropist of $25,000 for a new roof to be put on the building. It has been determined that the building is solid. The committee wants more time to proceed with looking at ideas for uses of the building.”

Councillor Steve Shaffer said he had received numerous calls and emails and texts from local residents indicating the pros and cons of extending the mandate of the MOSRC. “The purpose of the MOSRC was to seek out proposals and ideas that would be financially viable for the  Old School building. In the Tulloch report it pointed out the committee has fulfilled its mandate and there is no reason for the committee to continue.” However, “this doesn’t mean that another group can’t continue to look at options or ideas to bring forward for use of the building. The Tulloch report did not identify a fiscally viable option.”

“The committee’s mandate has been satisfied,” said Councillor Shaffer. “But this does not preclude other groups like the (Central Manitoulin) Historical Society looking at options and bringing these forward.”

It was the opinion of Councillor Al Tribinevicius that if a new roof is put on the Old School, it should be made of steel. “The building itself looks solid; in the report it doesn’t mention bricks falling off the building or cracking in the walls. I support keeping an open mind on options for repurposing the building.”

Mayor Stephens pointed out the MOSRC has been very active over the past two years in looking at uses for the building. They have the background and history that they could use if their mandate was extended.

Councillor Farquhar asked for a recorded vote on the motion that council extend the mandate of the MOSRC committee for a period of five years to explore more options and other avenues of funding for the Old School building.

“I have some concerns with the five-year request,” said Councillor Dale Scott. He pointed out a motion had been looked at on October 7 in which the extension had been requested, and between that time and the finance and economic development committee meeting last week. “I’m not sure where the extension of the committee mandate for five years came from, whether it was a committee or executive decision. I have reservations with giving a five-year extension and this took me by surprise when this came up.”

It was explained by Mayor Stephens the five-year extension mandate request had been posed by the committee. He explained with a donation being made for a new roof on the building, it was felt by the committee they would need enough time to look for an ultimate use for the building. 

Councillors Stephens, Scott, Shaffer and Angela Johnston voted in opposition to extending the committee mandate, with councillors Tribinevicius and Farquhar voting in favour of supporting the motion.