Letter: The Big Lake mistake

Writer outlines several flaws in the decision making process

To the Expositor:

After reading the somewhat disappointing news of the decision to terminate the lease agreement for the Big Lake schoolhouse, I feel compelled to offer some inputs that I, personally, believe are amicable to the satisfaction of all parties concerned.

First let me state that I am not a Haweater but did spend over seven marvelous years on your beautiful Island. Right on the edge of Big Lake itself, so I have fond memories of the schoolhouse and activities that were always on the go by some of the stalwarts in their day. Carol, Marjory, The Kellers, Moodies, Youngs, Cannards, Drydens and so on. There are many more I could add add.

As an outsider, I look at this situation that has developed between the Council and the concerned citizens of the Big Lake area and must state my opinion on the matter via this message.

After reviewing the methods used to determine this decision, I find it flawed, and for several reasons.

First off, I cannot believe for the life of me that the repairs to the building would run $200,000.00. Whoever quoted you must be looking at one colossal profit margin. I would never in my life go with only one estimate, and especially one that is so blatantly overpriced as this one is. Mistake number one.

I believe after reviewing several estimates/ quotes a determination should then have been taken by the Building Committee. The estimates should have been proposed in a manner that would explain in detail what each portion of the quote is for.

The matter of the schoolhouse water damage and possibility of mould was first determined over two years ago. I realize the Covid virus issue created disruption galore, and the council’s objectives were included in this disruption. Still, I have to ask, just why did it take so long to come to the present conclusion to terminate the lease? My initial thoughts on this were: If the schoolhouse is in such bad shape, why has it not been shut down earlier to the public? If indeed mould had been detected, should the appropriate action have been to call in the local Health Inspector to determine the extent of mould and if the building is safe for use as it is. I do not know if this action was taken but it would make sense to me to have it done.

I note that the council’s close vote ( 4-3) to terminate the lease was carried by members who do not live in the Big Lake area. Funny how that happens, you may say, but you have to also think about it like this. If, hypothetically, the vote had been for the updating of the school, then we can assume (and the four that voted against and further action to save the building will most certainly cherish the fact that now there is $200,000 still in the kitty for just possibly something in their respective areas). All hypothetical as I said earlier. Council has to vote, irrelevant of area or issue as they represent the entire location of Central Manitoulin.

But this brings me to my final issue. There are overwhelming concerns by many residents about the decisions for this lovely and well utilized heritage building, but its demise is being determined primarily by people who do not live in the area, have minimal knowledge of its use, and it appears are quite insensitive to the concerns of the locals who all share their fond and happy memories over the years at the building. 

Here is my proposal, which I believe to be fair. 

Offer an opportunity to conduct a residential vote in the old Sandfield ward of Big Lake. Yes, I know it’s not in the books as a norm. but I think the response would be shocking and the schoolhouse would be repaired at fair value cost, leaving the local residents with a happy resolve and the council a bit prouder for handling this in a diplomatic manner. 

Mike Robertson

London, Ontario

Formerly of Big Lake