Letter: A few things Central Manitoulin taxpayers should know

Council should provide a clear and transparent number for the tax increase to come

To the Expositor:

‘Mindemoya Old School Committee,’ recently removed from Central Manitoulin council has been independently revived, now calling itself ‘Friends of the Old School.’ This group has two issues of concern. Our primary objective was and is to save the historic Mindemoya Continuation School building from demolition. The second is to alert Central Manitoulin township taxpayers to a possible crushing and perhaps untenable municipal tax hike. 

Our council has recently applied for an Ontario grant of 15 million dollars to build an arena complex. Taxpayers would pay 27 percent, or 4.05 million dollars if the entire amount is approved, and even more in the case of only receiving partial approval. This complex would supposedly replace the current Mindemoya arena and the Providence Bay arena, both of which would be either torn down or sold. It would also allow council to abandon, sell or destroy the community halls in Spring Bay and Providence Bay.

The proposal study made by Tulloch Engineering has suggested that one Mindemoya ball diamond and the municipal park both be relocated to clear a site for the new complex. Further to this, the study indicates that each of the two existing arenas would require over two million dollars of upgrade if they were to keep running. These arenas have both been upgraded structurally to specifications within the past ten years, but do need better dressing rooms and washrooms. Both arenas are ground level buildings. Proposed renovations include the installation of public access lifts to upper story storage rooms (?!) and the building of showers in dressing rooms. Although showers would be a nice addition, we wonder if public access to the storage areas upstairs is really essential. The cost figure associated with these two things alone is formidable, but are they necessary expenditures to the continued use of these buildings?

As part of the new complex plan, council has passed a motion to destroy the 99-year-old Mindemoya Continuation School building at a projected cost of $250,000. The building is in good shape structurally, but Tulloch Engineering estimates that it needs considerable renovation to the inside and exterior to bring it up to approved specifications of health and safety. Such renovations would presumably make the building suitable for housing, for seniors and/or youth recreation, for club activities, for business offices, as a museum, or for whatever other project that would suit the needs of the community.

A gift from Manitoulin Transport of $50,000 has been offered over five years at $10,000 per year, or alternatively $25,000 up front to repair the roof plus $5,000 per year for five years. This gift offer was generously made for the purpose of keeping the building intact until a viable re-purposing plan could be generated. The offer was rejected by council.

The building does not have to be destroyed to build the complex that council wants. Council’s reasoning is that the lot on which the building sits would make a good parking lot, and the building sitting vacant requires a minimal insurance coverage. The building itself could be sold for re-purposing by amending the current municipal bylaw restriction, a reasonably unimposing technicality. An alternative site for the proposed complex which would not necessitate the destruction of the school and would provide ample parking also looks available. In spite of this, council has passed a motion to allow for the demolition of the building.

An internet petition of support to save the building produced over 900 signatures, and was presented to council in a meeting of last October. The average household income in our municipality is under $30,000. It seems clear to many of us that the majority of Central Manitoulin taxpayers neither wish to see the destruction of this heritage building, nor wish to bear the additional tax burden that will be imposed upon them by the proposed complex construction. In this time of COVID-19 measures, a public forum to provide facts and figures seems impossible. However, we do think that Central Manitoulin council should provide its constituents with at least the expected tax hike figures the arena complex would entail, and take a second look at whether they are accurately and fairly representing those who voted for them. 

Jim Smith

Friends of the Old School