Committee agrees to provide Friends of Old School extended deadline on building plans

Mindemoya Old School

MINDEMOYA – The Central Manitoulin property committee has recommended that council extend the deadline to April 2022 for the Friends of the Mindemoya Old School (FOMOS) to see if any funding  proposals come forth. The property committee, which is made up of members of municipal council, unanimously passed the motion at a meeting last Tuesday. 

FOMOS Treasurer Alison McAllister presented the group’s business plan and repurposing strategy to the committee the previous evening. “FOMOS is dedicated to the restoration and repurposing of the Mindemoya Old School,” she told the committee. “Our mission is to preserve the Mindemoya Old School and to promote an understanding within the community and among the general public of its vibrant history and heritage value, today and for future considerations. The mission is currently supported by close to 300 members, with the majority being Manitoulin Island residents.”

FOMOS organized quickly, in January 2021, forming a not-for-profit affiliation with the Ontario Historical Society (OHS) and has gained public support for its mission to preserve, restore and repurpose the building, Ms. McAllister said. “Why do we want to repurpose the school? For its historical value but also for the over $150,000 in demolition costs that will be saved in tax dollars. Reducing waste to the landfill. If the waste must be shipped off-Island, it could be quite a tax burden. Reusing and recycling existing sites where materials have high durability just makes sense.”

Site reviews have been completed by two contractors and an electrician and all areas of the building have been evaluated. The resulting business plan contains three potential visions for the project. The first vision, for an artisan, seniors and cultural centre, would provide a central hub for artists, artisans and market-type operations where there would be no weather concerns. The seniors and cultural centre on the lower level would offer engaging opportunities for seniors in the community as well as provide a tourist destination. The lower level would be the same in all three visions.

The second vision sees the main level transformed into eight affordable rental units for seniors. Each unit would contain one bedroom, a four-piece bath and would have an open concept kitchen and living area in approximately 450-500 square feet. Economical ‘green’ heating options would be installed in individual units. 

The building would be utilized by one to four commercial operations if the third vision was chosen. These would be new businesses or relocation of existing businesses, paying market lease rates. 

A budget was developed based on vision one parameters as provided to contractors, said Ms. McAllister. The total renovation and restoration budget is $1.5 million, which includes a full renovation of the lower level complete with insulation, in-floor heating, a kitchen facility, a common area, rewiring and historical displays throughout. The main level will be maintained as is, where possible. All hazardous materials will be identified and removed or contained where permitted. The redesign will comply with the Ontario Building Code.

In addition to ongoing fundraising efforts, FOMOS has applied to FedNor for revitalization funds and to the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, the Trillium Mutual Insurance Roots community fund and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Green Municipal Fund. Pledges have been made by local businesses and third-party events have raised over $5,000, Ms. McAllister told the committee. “The Jim Smith Mindemoya Old School medallion was almost sold out at the 100th anniversary celebrations of the school. It was a fantastic day with beautiful weather. We raised over $1,000 on that day.”

“There’s a lot coming up in the spring,” she said. “We’re looking to the future. We’re not going to just open the building and let it stand empty.” She named several potential funding opportunities and said fundraising activities will continue. FOMOS is also in the process of applying for charitable status through the Canada Revenue Agency. “We want to be able to expand and provide charitable receipts.”

FOMOS proposed that ownership for the building and appropriate surrounding land be transferred to the group. The transfer of ownership would eliminate any future fiscal burden to the municipality as the entire financial and legal responsibility would be placed on FOMOS, Ms. McAllister said. Alternatively, FOMOS requested a long-term, ideally 30-year, lease agreement.

“FOMOS will contribute substantially to the financial well-being of the community,” she said. “FOMOS will renovate and maintain this building in a reasonable time frame and will not allow the building to lie vacant. FOMOS will continue its mission to educate the public about the historical value of the Mindemoya Consolidated School while creating a hub for tourism, small businesses and seniors to connect safely.” She then presented a letter of support for fundraising from Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha. 

“FOMOS respectfully requests that the property committee support our proposal that Central Manitoulin transfer ownership of the Mindemoya Old School by forwarding it to council for a final vote of approval,” concluded Ms. McAllister.

Committee chair and councillor Dale Scott thanked Ms. McAllister for her presentation and opened the floor to questions from councillors. Councillor Derek Stephens opened by acknowledging the letter from MPP Mantha and asking when funding would be confirmed. 

Ms. McAllister replied that the FedNor application would be delayed two to three months because of the federal election. The review process for Trillium is underway but no results have been communicated yet, she said. 

Councillors were generally pleased with FOMOS’ plan and proposal but most expressed concerns about funding. “It would be a great addition to Mindemoya,” said Councillor Angela Johnston. “My concern is what happens if we make the transfer, and you don’t get the funding. What is your backup plan?”

“The group is committed to this,” said Ms. McAllister. “I understand where you’re coming from. I think it’s doable.”

Councillor Rose Diebolt wanted to know how FOMOS would determine which vision would move forward. “The goal and the one we are focusing on is vision one,” Ms. McAllister responded. “It’s what is most viable financially. The community will thrive with support businesses and the senior cultural centre.” She noted that per the business plan, they weren’t expecting any revenues in the first year. “We would continue to look at grants and fundraising income. We are committed to it.”

Councillor and Chair Scott expressed concern about the lack of a contingency funds in the budget, which would generally be 10 to 15 percent, he said. “I have concerns about the capital campaign that is almost all built on government funding.”

The proposal was then discussed at the property committee meeting. “We have a request to turn the building over or offer a 30-year lease to FOMOS,” said Councillor Stephens. “As much as I compliment the group on their plans, I can’t recommend turning over or leasing until they get at least one grant approved.”

“How long will we wait until they get a grant and keep putting off a decision?” asked Councillor Johnston. 

Chair and Councillor Scott noted that the group had provided new evidence and research and suggested the committee go in camera to consider the proposal as it was a financial decision. The committee (with the exception of Councillor Stephens) voted to go in camera. 

Ultimately, Councillor Stephens moved to extend the deadline until April 2022. Councillor Diebolt seconded the motion. All councillors agreed to support the deadline extension.

“This council has to make a decision in April,” Councillor Stephens stated.