Council to debate Old School committee request for five-year extension of its mandate

Central Manitoulin Old School.

MINDEMOYA – It will take at least one more Central Manitoulin council meeting this week before a final decision is made on whether an extension will be granted to the Mindemoya Old School Repurposing Committee to look at options for the Old School after a municipal finance and economic development committee decision reached last week. 

This comes after the committee heard from Joanne Smith, on behalf of MOSRC at last week’s meeting. 

“Thank you for this time to discuss the Old School issue. Unfortunately, it seems this issue has become a ‘we/they’ situation. It seems to be a battle of economic progress versus preservation of our heritage, of modern vs. traditional, of one community vs. another community,” she said. “Council decisions seem prone to being heavily influenced by these ‘we/they’ disparities. 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.

“The MOSRC was formed and contacted several possible sources of funding, from which one was chosen,” said Ms. Smith. She pointed out that as part of the project, any business created was not competing with any current business in the township. “The new funder agreed to search for a viable plan to make the Old School economically sustainable without competing with any existing local business,” and Tulloch Engineering was hired to do this. Studies and questionnaires took significant time and, although many in the community expressed an interest in cultural and sports aspects, a non-competitive ‘anchor tenant’ had to be found to shoulder the financial load. “One such tenant was identified, but they soon realized that the financial burden would be too great to proceed. Consequently, with the Tulloch report, our project seemed doomed to failure.”

Initially the committee had thought of a museum, a seniors’ centre, an indoor sports/exercise area, a cultural activities centre which would include art, dance, theatre and music were all possible inclusion or re-purposing the building. “However, none of these would generate enough income to comply with the second mandate of economic self-sufficiency. At this point, it is worth realizing that no other public building in our township has ever been economically self-sustaining,” said Ms. Smith. 

Ms. Smith explained, to date, “our committee has accomplished the following: greater public awareness of the issues involved has been made; a petition in which over 800 names have been signed in support of saving the school; a structural evaluation completed was made, indicating the building is structurally sound; architectural interior drawings for potential retrofit were made; a detailed cost analysis of re-purposing the building has been compiled; and a generous donation from Manitoulin Transport to replace the roof has been offered to keep the

re-purposing of the building viable.”
“It is not our intent to conflict with other grants that may be currently sought by this council,” she said. “On the contrary, we commend the recreation committee for the excellent report submitted for the possibility of building of a new recreational complex.” 

With the Old School to be 100 years old in 2020, it appears other grants for heritage and culture will become available for the projects, said Ms. Smith. She pointed out the Old School rests on a lot which is too small to make it available for private sale. Should the proposed multi-complex become a reality, the arena would be demolished. It was suggested possibly the complex could be built in another location. “A third scenario would be to integrate the Old School into the design of the proposed new complex,” she said.

“Another factor to consider is the cost of demolition,” said Ms. Smith, noting the Tulloch report indicated an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000 for this destruction, plus another $100,000 to dispose of hazardous waste. This leaves the township on the hook for a quarter of a million dollars. The cost of insurance to keep the Old School is roughly $10,000 per year, which can be offset by fund-raising and philanthropy. If the building were allowed to be re-purposed, the cost of dealing with the presence of hazardous material may be mitigated to some extent, and would remain similar to many other existing buildings currently in use.”

“The arbitrary date set by council, for us to exist as a committee, is set for November 30 of this year. 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 committee is requesting a five-year time extension to explore other avenues of funding, as well as your support to continue the quest. If the time extension is approved, a new roof will be totally funded by Manitoulin Transport,” said Ms. Smith. 

“We respectfully request that this committee and council grant a reprieve from the wrecking ball for this valuable heritage building, and allow our committee, and our community, to make further attempts to breathe life back into it for the sake of past, present and future residents of Central Manitoulin,” added Ms. Smith. 

“I want to thank Joanne for the wonderful impressive comments from the heart, and thank her and the committee for all their time and effort,” stated Mayor Richard Stephens. “We do know all these items you touched on are real and many of us agree, and hope the rest of our colleagues will see this and grant the extension-and go forward.”

Councillor Angela Johnston, chair of the FED committee, pointed out the committee had received a letter from the Central Manitoulin Historical Society and others in favour of an extension. She noted as for the petition encouraging council to extend the MOSRC’s mandate to restore the building, she questioned who signed the petition. “It is our taxpayers that have to bear the burden of costs, so it will be interesting to know how many people list Central Manitoulin as their residence.”
It was suggested by Councillor Derek Stephens that even if the majority who signed the petition are from Central Manitoulin (and he indicated this is not the case), “it is great to say 800 plus signed the petition, but it will still cost two million dollars to keep the building going (retrofit).”

Councillors Al Tribinevicius and Mayor Richard Stephens put forward the motion of a five-year extension for further discussion.

Councillor Tribinevicius said, “I would probably be in favour of four years, instead of five.”

If the extension fell in line with the term of council it would mean a three-year extension, said Ms. Johnston. 

“I think a five-year extension is reasonable when dealing with government grants,” said Councillor Linda Farquhar. “This all takes time. Two years has been spent time waitingfor replies on funding applications.”

“Are we saying five years and not have anything done with the building?” questioned Councillor Steve Shaffer. 

“That would be my assumption,” said Councillor Johnston who indicated the municipalities’ hands would be tied.

“I would hope that this location is not the only location we could consider for the new complex,” said Mayor Stephens.

Councillor Shaffer said, “five years is a long time. In my mind this would be tasking this and future council’s decisions. This is the first time I’ve heard about the five-year extension request.”

“I agree five years would tie the hands of this and the next council as well,” said Councillor Stephens. “The study it will cost up to $2 million to retrofit the Old School building. If we have to get another property for the complex, it will cost more. We have property here that we don’t have to pay for. Why tie the hands of this and future council for five years?”

“I am not comfortable with giving five years,” said Councillor Dale Scott. “Five years, I agree, is a long time.” He noted council had originally given a mandate of one year for the MOSRC committee to make a proposal, and then provided another extension. “But we still don’t see a viable proposal,” he said, noting, “I’m not comfortable with allowing another five-year extension.”
Ms. Smith noted that the MOSRC committee has had to wait for a considerable about of time to hear about funding for studies and possible proposals. 

The committee voted in favour to put forward a motion for council to debate the request for a five-year extension for the MOSRC at its next meeting.