Letter: Urgent message urging a pause in Central Manitoulin’s demolition plans

There are many uses for the Mindemoya Old School building

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an open letter to the mayor and council of Central Manitoulin and has been reprinted here at the author’s request.

Dear Mayor Stephens and councillors of Central Manitoulin, 

I urge you to reject the Central Manitoulin Property Committee’s recommendation to destroy the historical Mindemoya Old School, 100 years old in 2021. Now, near Christmas, during the pandemic, when it is difficult to rally opposition, the committee has chosen to wield the wrecking ball. The Old School wasn’t even on the committee’s agenda, it came up under ‘new business,’ out of the blue.

Despite what some say, council has not exhausted all alternatives. The feasibility study by Tulloch that was completed in September 2019 zeroed in on one option only, an option that did not qualify for grant money. Before that study was even completed, an opportunity arose for a building infrastructure grant, but instead of applying for the grant for the Old School, the municipality kept news of this opportunity hidden from the Old School Repurposing Committee, and instead hired the same company, Tulloch, to put together a grant for a multiplex which as envisioned would entail the demolition of the Old School, as well as the adjacent park! Now that the $15 million multiplex application has failed, it appears you would rather have it destroyed than look further or let someone else take it over.

I sat on the repurposing subcommittee, which council disbanded in November 2019. Some of us have carried on. Architects from ERA Architects in Toronto answered our plea for help from the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, coming here in January 2020 to assess the structure, the heritage value and the potential of the Old School, pro bono. They prepared a Statement of Significance which I forwarded to council in April 2020, and they offered to make a presentation. You may not remember that you did not even reply. The ERA covering letter concluded: 

“It’s our opinion that the Old School, as well as its neighbouring arena, hall and church have inherent cultural value and would likely meet the criteria in the Ontario Heritage Act (OHA) for listing or designation given its civic contribution to the area … Additional time may be required to comprehensively study various uses for the building, such as the potential location for start-up businesses or student housing for the local college, for example … ERA understands the value of the Mindemoya Old School, and together we believe we can realize the full potential of this built asset as an important component to the town’s and Island’s civic commons.”

Last August, when we learned that the $15 million multiplex proposal was rejected, we felt a sigh of relief! In the midst of the pandemic, we did not expect you would want to spend the $115,000 to $150,000 Tulloch estimated would be needed to demolish the building. 

Honestly, if the Old School was just a wooden frame building, I would not be fighting to save it even considering its 100-year history. But it is solid brick, well-constructed, built to last! Consider the Old School’s brick exterior. Clay brick is inert, naturally fireproof, it emits no gases, needs no maintenance, and is impervious to chemical leaching. It lasts almost forever, and that means it has a very low environmental cost over its life-cycle. Brick buildings in Europe are hundreds, even thousands of years old. 

Bricks are a wonderful building material, and they take a lot of energy to make. To calculate roughly how much energy is embodied just in the Old School’s bricks, I estimated there are at least 12,000 bricks, that means it would take 20.4 Megawatt-hours to replace those bricks. 

There are many potential uses for this building, some of which would qualify for substantial grant money. Some of these potential uses—social, recreational, artistic—were listed in the failed multiplex infrastructure grant proposal as things the community needs! I would add the acute need for affordable housing, which has lately become a focus of federal concern in much of the nation. For arts and culture, the federal Building Communities through their Arts and Heritage – Legacy Fund provides funding for community-initiated capital projects, intended for community use, up to 50 percent of eligible project expenses up to a maximum of $500,000. An arts centre would be eligible, and the Weengushk Film Institute may be interested in a partnership, which would be a wonderful addition to Mindemoya. I’m sure there could be other opportunities for other projects.

Another idea that council has never seriously entertained is the idea of advertising and selling this building as a heritage structure in order to save it. Initially I didn’t like this idea, but it is far better to let someone else take it over than to reduce the Old School to rubble. What a loss to the community!

Sincerely, 

Jan McQuay

Mindemoya