Majority of Central residents in favour of repurposing and use of Mindemoya Old School

Central Manitoulin Old School.

MINDEMOYA – The Mindemoya Old School Repurposing Committee (MOSRC) met July 31 at the community hall. Present were Mayor Richard Stephens, councillors, CAO/clerk Ruth Frawley and residents of Central Manitoulin.

In March 2019, the Municipality of Central Manitoulin (MCM) retained the services of Tulloch Engineering and Axiom Management Consulting to complete a feasibility study to determine if the Old Mindemoya School could be repurposed or would have to be demolished and removed as outlined by consultant Michel Lepage.

The committee met with Tulloch and Axiom in April to review several items including population projections, workforce planning bodies, daily traffic counts, Manitoulin-Sudbury District Service Board (DSB), examples of repurposed schools and buildings, the present condition of the school and government stakeholder funding programs. A general discussion on the potential use of the building and next-step strategy also took place.

In June, another meeting took place with Tulloch and Axiom presenting a pre-feasibility study to review several potential development options that included offices, apartments and rental space. Initial estimated capital and operating costs were on the agenda as well as financial information including the use and source of funds, estimated capital and operating cost per square foot, anchor tenant, lease rates and revenues. Financial information included the balance sheet and a revenue and expense statement. Risk assessment, draft needs assessment survey and government stakeholder funding criteria were also reviewed.

In June and July, MCM conducted a needs assessment survey to determine what the local residents felt would be a good use if the school was to be repurposed. The survey objectives were to determine if the residents would use the proposed multi-use facility and for what purpose, and if they would be willing to pay for the use of the facility or to attend workshops and training programs. The final objective was to see if there was interest in being a tenant of the repurposed old school.

Some 785 surveys were mailed out along with prepaid return envelopes. The survey was also online and MCM received a total of 338 responses, of which 162 were in print form and 176 were completed online. Forty-two percent of the respondents objected to the repurposing of the old school and 58 percent said that they would make use of the multi-use facility. Of those 195 people, 179 indicated what use they would make of the building. Eighty-three percent would attend social gatherings, 75 percent would attend workshops and skills development programs, 71 percent would rent it for business and government meetings as well as functions, and 18 respondents expressed interest in renting the repurposed Mindemoya old school.

A review of the surveys indicated that many were opposed to repurposing the old school and wished it was demolished and removed. Others suggested selling the building to the private sector; however, the property does not abut a road.

Predominately, those who would use the multi-use facility were over the age of 55. The respondents from the age of 16 to 55, for the most part, were either opposed to repurposing the old school or would make limited use of the multi-use facility, mostly for fitness, training and workshops.

The survey results were broken down in two sections: potential use of the multi-use facility and potential tenants. The section for the multi-use survey consisted of eight questions whereas the potential tenant section had 16 questions. Survey respondents consisted of 221 females and 121 males.

Potential uses of the building include a fitness centre and art centre as well as a small café. Eighty to 90 percent of survey respondents had no problem with paying a user or attendance fee. The fitness and multi-use options are eligible uses under the FedNor and NOHFC funding programs. If the MCM moves forward with the business plan submitted by Axiom, it would need to develop training, workshop, and social gathering agenda with various stakeholders such as community colleges, educational bodies and social action groups.

Of all the people surveyed as to becoming tenants of the building, one respondent who would like to open an art gallery has background experience, a business plan, is willing to be an anchor tenant and would provide one or two full-time jobs and one part-time position. As reported, they would like to have a longer-term lease which would increase the financial sustainability of the repurposed old school. Another person wanted to have space for an art gallery but did not have any experience or a business plan. Other potential tenants were for a childcare centre, perpetual bazaar and assisted living with meals.

The only respondent who would be an incubator tenant was the one asking for a mental health addiction centre. The respondent wanted the entire building. The respondent has background experience, a business plan and would provide 25 full-time jobs and 10 part-time positions. This centre would mean that MCM would not qualify for NOHFC and FedNor funding and at a $1.15 million in retrofit cost, it was felt this option was not feasible. Instead, it was recommended that the centre lease the lower level of the school and part of the main floor rear level. This centre would use the rear entrance as its main entrance. Axiom noted that establishing a mental health and addiction centre in the downtown core of Mindemoya might not sit well with some local residents and that if the committee and council want to move forward on this it should consider a second survey to determine if those residents are opposed to having the mental health and addictions centre as a tenant in the old school.

The next step would be for Axiom to prepare a draft summary report for the municipality’s economic development officer (EDO) that would be directed at NOHFC and FedNor to confirm if they would consider the project as eligible with the mental health and addiction centre being the anchor tenant and occupying 67 percent of the building. Axiom would also communicate with the centre to see if they would be prepared to pay $72,050 in rent per year plus utilities. 

As well, Axiom would talk with the respondent who wants to open an art gallery to see if 600 square feet would meet their requirements and if they would be willing to pay $8,780 per year in rent plus utilities. Both respondents would enter into discussion with Axiom concerning the leasehold improvement cost responsibility.

Based on the results of the above, Axiom will complete the final feasibility study, either recommending that MCM moves to the business plan stage or to demolish and remove the old school.