If Mindemoya’s Old School building survives, benefactor offers to cover costs of replacing the roof

Central Manitoulin Old School.

MINDEMOYA – The Mindemoya Old School Repurposing Committee (MOSRC) meeting was held in council chambers October 7 with Mayor Richard Stephens and councillors Steve Shaffer, Linda Farquhar and Dale Scott in attendance. It is the hope of the citizen committee that their mandate will be extended by council and will be pleading their case on October 17.

The final feasibility report was on the agenda with member Jan McQuay saying, “We have been taken over by events.” 

Councillor Farquhar added, “I think we should look over the report more than we have. Study it further.” 

Mayor Stephens responded by saying that the report was made redundant as it was based on an addictions clinic taking over the school and there was no longer interest in this. At this point committee chairman Ted Williamson said that the environmental report was bad news too. “And we can’t sell it,” committee member Joanne Smith pointed out. 

Ms. Smith then went on to talk about the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP). This is a $30 billion 10-year infrastructure program cost-shared between federal, provincial and municipal governments. The Ontario/Canada agreement commits to $407 million in federal funding and $320 million in provincial funding to the Community, Culture and Recreation stream. Cultural facilities, for example, would include museums, cultural centres and community centres/hubs as well as others such as libraries and performing arts centres. A project category focuses on modernizing the funding impact that would improve the condition of existing buildings up to $5 million in total project cost. Eligible projects consist of renovation and rehabilitation to address the functionality and use of existing facilities. Small-scale improvements could also be covered to address accessibility. For example, handrails, ramps, accessible doors/parking, elevators, wayfinding and signage.

“Kind of what our dream was,” Ms. Smith said.

At an earlier MOSRC meeting, Mr. Williamson noted that phase one would be a drop-in centre for seniors. He explained that there are 850 seniors in Central Manitoulin and the feedback he was getting was that they needed things to do, especially in the winter. “People are looking for things to do,” he said. “To be part of the community. I still like the idea of a seniors’ centre,” to which Mayor Stephens said, “I think you have to start there.”

Artist Jane Woodbury had spoken to the committee about the enormous effect that the arts have on communities. Her message was that there is very little arts and culture to be found in Mindemoya. “It is important to have a cultural presence to inspire growth,” she had said, pointing out funding avenues including philanthropists, foundations, private and in-kind donations and local fundraising.

And these ideas are what Ms. Smith meant by ‘our dream.’ The committee envisioned these aspects and a survey saw a good candidate who would like to open an art centre, agreed to be an anchor tenant, has background experience and a business plan and would be hiring for one or two full-time positions and one part-time.

Ms. Smith also had news that Doug Smith, the founder of Manitoulin Transport, had readily agreed to donate $25,000 for a new roof for the school building.

Mr. Williamson said that this was a very generous offer, but it would be totally dependent on what the finance committee did and if they allow for an extension.

Councillor Farquhar spoke of the dreams for the building saying that she envisions the building as something the municipality does for the people, that the building should not have to make money to support itself. “That it is for the community. For an art gallery, a seniors’ drop-in centre, perhaps a few small offices.”

She gave the example of the City of Toronto’s 2018 plan for the development of a planning assessment to repurpose and redevelop underutilized and deteriorating Toronto District School Board properties into community hubs.

Central Manitoulin’s EDO Nancy Kinoshameg spoke against applying for grant money saying, “The grant that was announced. At first glance it seems like a good fit, but when you read through it, it is not a good fit. No purpose has been identified to date. It has to align with the asset management plan. I am not sure where this fits in the asset management plan.” 

Mayor Stephens then said, “Nothing concrete,” to which Ms. McQuay took exception. “We have the museum and the art gallery,” she asserted. 

Councillor Shaffer weighed in on the discussion saying he was having “difficulty applying for a grant for a building we don’t have a tenant for. From a layman’s point of view, two years and no tenant…” 

“And what is wrong with that?” Ms. Smith demanded. “It sat for 100 years.”

“It pains me,” Ms. McQuay said, “when something doesn’t work out someone says, ‘That’s it. Tear it down.’ If we put a roof on it and we didn’t get the grant, other things may come along.”

“Doug is a philanthropist to the nth degree,” Ms. Smith added. “So I would not like to see council say, ‘Put it down.’”

“We built a new fire hall,” Councillor Farquhar added. “In 100 years, are they going to say ‘tear it down?’ Culture and history should play a big part in community living.”

Mayor Stephens then spelled out that he agreed with “both Joanne and Jan in retaining something of value for our community.” He went on to say that he had been in Prince Edward Island recently and how people wanted to retain the well-being and culture of the island. He went to see a three-storey building that was built in 1883. “The local historical society purchased the building and 500 acres. They have a long way to go to repair the building, but it is structurally sound. We have a 100-year-old building. I commend the people on the committee who are trying to find a purpose. Just because one thing did not get done, doesn’t mean they don’t look for others.”

“We are working with a guillotine above us,” Ms. McQuay said. “If this doesn’t work, tear it down.”

MOSRC members will approach the Finance Committee on October 17 at 7 pm to ask for an extension on the mandate that ends for the members on November 30 to give council time to apply for the grant. 

All the Municipality of Central Manitoulin committee and sub-committee meetings are open to the public and Islanders are welcome to attend.

The next meeting of the MOSRC committee will be October 28 at 10 am.