Costs of converting Old School in Mindemoya raises concerns

Central Manitoulin Old School.

Local tax dollar payout troubles Councillor Scott

MINDEMOYA—Concerns with some Central Manitoulin taxpayers not wanting the municipality to put funds into renovating and repurposing the Old School building was raised again at a meeting last week.

“I have some concerns, and have had them for awhile, as do a number of our ratepayers,” stated Central Manitoulin councillor Dale Scott at a municipal finance and economic development committee meeting last week.

“I’ve now had 14 emails, letters and calls from people not wanting taxpayers dollars going into the Old School,” said Councillor Scott. “No one has stopped me and said they want the municipality to go ahead and put taxpayers’ money into the building. And my number one concern with the repurposing committee survey is that, in my opinion, it is quite leaning to seniors. If you go through the survey and the questions-answers it doesn’t at all lead to a general repurposing of the building, but leans towards senior activities and programs.”

“And it’s a general survey that was not provided to everyone (in the municipality),” Councillor Scott continued. “It seemed geared to a select few. Each question is specific to seniors groups. I have nothing against the seniors groups or activities–it is needed–and they are in place in Providence Bay and Tehkummah, but when we are talking about repurposing this building it should be in general, not one entity, but for everyone out there. But I think the committee has narrowed this to seniors.”

“My next concern is the mandate to see if something can be done to make the building financially viable,” said Councillor Scott. “The whole building will have to updated-renovated and I don’t think we have a good estimate of the costs involved. In the last 6-8 years we have had engineers come in to look at the HRV, heating, windows, but more needs to be done.”

“I’ve received very strong comments from people saying they feel the first priority is to get estimates on the total costs of fixing the building and if grants are available,” continued Councillor Scott. “And the question should be put to our ratepayers if they want taxpayers’ money going into this.”

“I’ve also had many people contact me in my ward saying why are we (municipality) doing this?” said Councillor Pat McDonald. “I’m totally in favour of seniors’ programs, but a lot of people are not in favour of spending taxpayers money on all of this.”

“I’m the same,” said Councillor Derek Stephens. “I’ve talked to people in all three wards and they are not in favour of this.”

Mayor Richard Stephens told the meeting, “I think we have to be fair to the process. Many people favour retaining the building, not necessarily geared to seniors, but as a heritage building. All municipalities look at their long standing buildings and preserving its history. In a couple of years the Old School will celebrate its 100th birthday, and that is why the committee is looking at options for repurposing the building and making it viable in the future.”

“I was fully in favour of the survey and having the building repurposed,” said Councillor Ted Taylor, “and I’m in favour of the committee finding a good viable use for the building, but if it is shown that the costs will be too high, we will have to tear the building down if it is not viable.”

Councillor Scott said, “it is too bad that once the municipal office was moved out of the building, and the library as well, and we had few renters for the building, that the building wasn’t kept up.”

“It has been mentioned that so many people are against what is taking place,” said Councillor Linda Farquhar, “but we have had two public meetings with people packing the room, and no one indicated they object to the idea of having the building repurposed and the committee looking at options for its use and funding. There was no objections. And the application to FedNor will, if it is approved, provide a more detailed financial plan. And if funding is provided, a consultant would be hired to look at options for use of the building. The committee members are not experts on this type of thing, and there is a need for someone trained to explore this. Hopefully if funding is provide they will be able to tell us if any options are feasible or not.”

“It is clear on the public level opinions are percolating both ways,” said councillor and committee chair Alex Baran. “Council is obligated to let the committee, that we approved, carry out its work without interference. We need to allow this highly enthusiastic group to do their work and not stand in their way. And if they are not successful in the process they we need to applaud them for trying. We need to let them do their work.”