Friends of Mindemoya Old School shocked at council decision reversal

Central Manitoulin Old School.

MINDEMOYA – After the Central Manitoulin property committee meeting on May 12, Friends of the Mindemoya Old School (FOMOS) said they felt confident they had received a reasonable extension to complete and provide their business plan regarding repurposing the Mindemoya Old School building. However, 28 hours later the request was denied. Council members were quoted as saying that “it was too early to request an extension,” a FOMOS release stated. 

“We were a little shocked with the decision made by council,” Alison McAllister, treasurer of FOMOS, told the Recorder on Tuesday. “We had been pleased when the property committee gave us an extension. It was a reasonable request. Council should be neutral and take in the best interests of the municipality and the taxpayers.”

“FOMOS made a well balanced and resourceful presentation,” the release noted. “FOMOS and a contractor were denied entry into the Mindemoya Old School for almost eight weeks due to apparent COVID-19 provincial restrictions. This visit was essential in determining costs involved in renovating, remediating and restoring the building and to prepare the financial portion of the business plan that the property committee requested. The request was simple and fair. FOMOS asked for an eight-week extension which equalled the amount of time lost during the lockdown. Even though the motion to accept this request was passed at the property committee meeting, the majority of councillors apparently did not find it acceptable in the council meeting where they voted not to accept the motion.”

“FOMOS’ board of directors’ main concerns lie with the predetermined fate of the building being demolished, as is evidenced by a reference to problems with electricity running to the Lions Pavilion and how it might interfere with a new arena,” the FOMOS release continued. “Councillor Derek Stephens made it quite clear once again that he is ‘dead set’ against the school. This makes our journey even more complex as opinions have already been formed and seem to favour the idea of demolition.”

“It is very unfortunate that opinions cannot be set aside for a more open and honest approach to the repurposing proposal. This building has stood proudly for 100 years this year and it would be a tragedy to lose what little heritage we have left in this community. The quest in considering the future of this school should not involve any individual opinions. It should be neutral, weighing all aspects of the proposal from FOMOS when it is completed,” the FOMOS release concluded.

At a Central Manitoulin property committee meeting last week, FOMOS called on council to allow for a walk-through of the building by a company retained to carry out an assessment that is necessary for the completion of its business plan. The committee also requested an eight-week extension to the deadline for reporting back to the property committee. “Our business plan has come to a standstill as a result of being denied access to the building due to COVID-19 restrictions,” Ms. McAllister told members of the committee. “A full hazardous materials assessment for the building and a cost analysis of renovation and restoration of the building is currently on hold.”

On March 8, 2021, a site visit had been scheduled with a municipal office staff member, with entry to occur on March 12 at 10 am, Ms. McAllister said. The arrangements included access for a group consisting of the contractor and two board members. On March 11, FOMOS received an email indicating the visit was cancelled as all municipal buildings would be locked down due to provincial COVID-19 restrictions. FOMOS again contacted the municipal office on March 25 requesting access to the building, noting that on March 25 a real estate appraiser was granted access to the Big Lake Schoolhouse to complete an appraisal report for the municipality. A contractor and municipal representative were also allowed entry at Big Lake during the appraisal.

“These actions are frustrating and have caused considerable delays in our progress to meet the reporting deadlines previously requested by council,” continued Ms. McAllister. “Paul Davis’ company, which has agreed to complete the assessment, is deemed to provide an essential service by the province. We feel they should be granted entry.” 

Ms. Allister noted that should FOMOS take ownership of the site, the municipality would be free and clear of all liabilities related to the property. She reminded the committee that council would also save the $150,000 budgeted in 2020 for demolition of the building. FOMOS has 200 plus members, she said. “Most are taxpayers of the Central Manitoulin area. By purchasing memberships, they have voiced their support for our cause to keep the Mindemoya Old School from being demolished.”

“I think it’s too early to offer an eight-week extension,” said Councillor Steve Shaffer. “They have been working and asking because they’re not able to get into the building but it’s not the time to consider an extension; it’s only the first week of May. That’s too early.”

Councillor Derek Stephens agreed, suggesting FOMOS ask for more time in September should they need it. 

Councillor Al Tribinevicius felt the extension should be granted. “They’ve not been allowed in the building for the past eight weeks. Why do we always set up defences? Why do we want to get rid of the building so much and what message are we sending if we don’t extend the deadline?” he said. “I’d like a recorded vote on this motion.”

Councillors Derek Stephens, Rose Diebolt, Steve Shaffer and Dale Scott voted against the motion to extend the deadline while Councillors Al Tribinevicius, Angela Johnston and Mayor Richard Stephens voted in favour of granting the extension. 

“I don’t get it,” said Ms. McAllister. “It’s not from a neutral point of view. It would be nice if the committee/council would give us an opportunity and neutrally look at our proposal. It appears some people are not going to give us this opportunity. Its consistent negative comments show an already predetermined option. Municipal taxpayers need to know that the project proposal is on level ground and a decision has not been predetermined.”