Big Lake Schoolhouse work gets go ahead

MINDEMOYA—Central Manitoulin council will carry out the needed assessment and repair work to the Big Lake Schoolhouse, with a limit set on how much it will spend before it has to come back to council for consideration. At the same time discussions will continue with the Big Lake Community Association (BLCA) to tweak the current lease agreement where needed.

“I have no problem putting a cap limit of $25,000 on repairs on the building,” said Councillor Derek Stephens, at a council meeting held last week. “I don’t think it cost that much, but I’m comfortable amending the (proposed) motion and for this to come back to council for consideration if the costs are estimated to be over this cap. And I agree with working with (BLCA) to rewrite the current lease agreement to indicate who is responsible for what.”

This comes after council discussed a motion that had come out of a recent meeting between municipal council representatives and staff members, with BLCA, “that we recommend to council that staff be directed to proceed with mold assessment, remediation and necessary repairs to Big Lake School building and continue discussions with BLCA regarding future of the asset.” 

“We had a process to determine what to do with the schoolhouse building and had a meeting with (BLCA) and this was the result,” said Mayor Richard Stephens. “But before we voted on the motion, we decided to have a second meeting at the school itself with the Big Lake group. The discussion was fairly lengthy and detailed, but positive in my opinion.”

“In all my years on council, the only thing this building has cost the municipality is insurance,” said Councillor Stephens. He noted the BLCA pays for all other costs such as hydro and telephone, and the group has made a lot of upgrades to the building over the years to hold their fundraising events. “I don’t think it’s asking too much for us to do the repairs that are required on the building.”

Councillor Stephens said that even through the pandemic, the BLCA could have used the building for takeout dinners if the mould assessment was not required on the building. “The little amount of money that has to be spent on the mould abatement, and repair on the roof, will benefit the township, with this group being able to use the building and a group that basically pays all the bills,” he said, pointing out there is a lease still in place with BLCA. “I’m all for getting this building back in the hands of these people so they can fundraise and do good things for the community.” 

Mayor Stephens said under the current lease with the municipality, the BLCA has control of the building.

However, Councillor Steve Shaffer said, “it is important to realize that the second meeting with the association was called as we (council) believed that this work would not proceed unless a new lease agreement was in place.  We were to do the repairs and turn over the building to the association, but this was rejected.”

Councillor Shaffer said, “until there is a new, revised lease I don’t want to spend any money on the building and find in five years we are in the same place as we are now. I am prepared to spend money on repairs to the building but would like a new lease so we know what the future costs will be and who is paying for what.” 

Councillor Rose Diebolt questioned the motion, specifically what necessary repairs mean.

Mayor Stephens explained the stack on the roof of the building had come off, so water got in the building in the bathroom. He said at the last meeting with BLCA, “we didn’t get into any details on the lease, but we did come to an agreement in principle that the lease would be tweaked and amendments made to the lease to spell out who was responsible for costs. I personally have no qualms dealing with this good faith organization that won’t do anything to jeopardize the building.”

“I’m not sure what to say,” said Councillor Angela Johnston. “I would have appreciated a report after the meeting Richard has been talking about. I kind of feel the community association has not really been trying to work with us, but this may have changed at the last meeting. I agree with Steve that something needs to change going forward.”

“I agree with Steve and Angela, that we need to be working with the association on a new lease and to outline responsibilities as to all costs involved in the building and if there is going to be cost sharing on this, and maintenance cost, and they do the repairs on the building,” said Councillor Dale Scott. “I’m not opposed to fixing up the building but work on the new agreement needs to be done at the same time.”

Councillor Scott said there hasn’t been confirmation of mould in the building, or what the costs will be. He said work on a new agreement and repairs to the building need to be carried out at the same time. 

Councillor Al Tribinevicius said the work on the building will not be a big cost. “I think the mould assessment will find it is almost the harmless type. It’s the vent pipe that needs to be replaced and patching the hole. And this isn’t a big roof, only being several metres in size.” 

“And, we have a lease agreement already in place (with BLCA),” said Councillor Tribinevicius.  “It wasn’t broken, if council wants to add clauses to the agreement let’s go ahead and get it done at another meeting with the association. I won’t be voting against having the repairs done.” 

Councillor Stephens agreed the municipality has a lease in place with the association for the building. “We are the leaseholders, and we are responsible for the repairs. We are renting out the building to this group, so the repairs are our responsibility.” He also noted the BLCA has also indicated that once they can get back to holding functions in the building, in the future they may be able to take over ownership of the building.  “Currently, they pay everything but insurance on the building. I’m not opposed to the motion in any way.”

Council was told the mould assessment on the building has not been carried out as of yet. A motion to have this done was cancelled by council because at the time it didn’t want to proceed with anything, said Councillor Stephens.

The municipality already has quotes on the mould assessment, said Councillor Scott, but not on the repairs. And nothing in the motion says anything about an engineer. Council was told the work to be carried out will unlikely take in any construction.

“As long as no one backtracks and engineers come in and say the work is going to cost $10,000,” said Councillor Scott. 

Mayor Stephens said he agrees the repairs to take place won’t be a big cost. “The mould is over the bathroom, and not on the floor of the building.” 

“You can say that there won’t be high cost, but no one knows at this point,” stated Councillor Diebolt. “If there has to be mould assessment done, the motion shouldn’t leave the costs we pay open ended. I’m not against fixing up the building but want to know what we are up against cost wise, $50,000 or $150,000.”

It was pointed out by Mayor Stephens that repairs must be done to the building “no matter what” and the longer the work doesn’t take place the more expensive the repairs will be. “In my assessment, we should proceed with the repairs and get an agreement in place (with BLCA) to alleviate any future disagreement on who is responsible for what.”

Councillor Shaffer said, “there are two problematic things with the proposed motion. We very seldom pass motions with no cap on what we are looking at spending. And secondly, the motion does not discuss negotiating and drawing up a new lease. I can’t support the motion the way it reads.”

Councillor Stephens proposed that amendment to the motion include a cap of $25,000 being spent and if quotes are higher than that, then this would have to come back to council.

The motion was amended to include a cap of $25,000 for the total costs of mold assessment and necessary repairs to the building and to meet with BLCA to look at any amendments, adjustments, and additions to the lease as required.

The amendment motion was carried unanimously by council.