Old School committee asks council to leave building ‘as is’ until options considered

Mindemoya Old School

Mindemoya – The final meeting of the Mindemoya Old School Repurposing Committee (MOSRC) was held recently with Hal Love serving as chairperson. He began by thanking Jan McQuay for “all the time you have put into this. The time, the presentations.” 

Ms. McQuay then put forth that it should be reported somewhere that Councillor Derek Stephens had said that it would cost $2 million for the Old School refurbishment and that “this is wildly out of place. It is $1,155,000 including an elevator.”

Councillor Steve Shaffer responded to this by saying, “if it was part of the record, then it should be corrected” but that it could be ignored if not recorded. “People make mistakes all the time when they speak,” he said. To this, Ms. McQuay replied, “But that is what he said.”

Committee member Joanne Smith then asked Central Manitoulin Municipal Coordinator Brad Christanson if there was any chance of putting the proposed new multi-plex facility next to  Central Manitoulin Public School (CMPS). 

“We would have to buy the land,” Mr. Christanson said.

Ms. Smith commented that this would be a “drop in the bucket. We need a town planner. We have to have a vision of the whole place. This is a little village with a sense of community. Leave what we have here and place the multi-plex near the school.”

Mindemoya resident Jim Smith was at this meeting and asked Mr. Love if he could speak. With permission received, Mr. Smith spoke of the $3.5 million that the Central Manitoulin ratepayers would be on the hook for if this facility was built. “Adding to that would be even more of a burden,” he said. “It has to be sustainable by the community; it has to be proven that the community can sustain this. Has this been proven?”

Mr. Christanson replied to this by outlining some of the costs of the existing arenas. “Providence Bay rink has to have an elevator. The west wall has moved. It needs an elevator or we will have to shut it down.”

Mr. Love then commented that he doesn’t think that the accessibility issue, requiring all public buildings to be accessible by January 1, 2025, will be enforced and if it is, “they will just put the taxes up.” The Progressive Conservatives had stopped the work being done by the committees that were developing accessibility standards, but it was said recently that Premier Ford will meet with committee heads to get work back underway. 

However, recent reports have indicated that the Ontario government does not have the funds to make their own buildings accessible and even the Legislative House does not have wheelchair accessibility. Of particular note is that former Lieutenant Governor David Onley, who uses a wheelchair, in reviewing Ontario’s implementation of the accessibility laws made a recommendation that tax breaks and other financial incentives be offered to those improving accessibility in public buildings.

Committee member Sam Bondi then weighed in on the Old School discussion, saying, “looking at the site plan for the new complex, it looks like the Old School doesn’t seem to have to be taken down. Why the rush, the emergency per se, to tear the building down?”

“We have had an offer of $50,000 from Manitoulin Transport,” Mr. Smith said. “If there is some kind of grant structure, the $50,000 would be our part and therefore it would cost nothing to the taxpayer to keep the school.”

A check shows that there are indeed grants for refurbishing heritage buildings and implementing some of the ideas that the committee had come up with, including an art gallery and a drop-in centre for seniors. Heritage Canada states that arts, culture and heritage represents $53.8 billion in the Canadian economy and more than 650,000 jobs and has a myriad of funding programs that support culture, history and heritage. 

The National Trust’s ‘find funding portal’ connects one to corporate, foundation and government funding for heritage projects at national, provincial/territorial and regional levels. As well, Employment and Social Development Canada has the Enabling Accessibility Fund (EAF) that provides funding for eligible capital projects that increase accessibility and eligible recipients include municipalities.

“I think you can have the best of both worlds,” Mr. Bondi said. “You can have the new building and still have the Old School.” 

Councillor Shaffer spoke of having the historical society take over as a committee to get things done regarding the Old School. “We have a very visible historical committee,” he said. 

Ms. McQuay replied to that saying, “most of the members are octogenarians. How can they get moving on this if they don’t have the backing?”

“We were stymied by council,” Mr. Love said, noting that council had said that whatever was done with the school had to be business and economically based. He said the initial efforts of the committee were sabotaged. 

“We could take this to the municipality,” Ms. McQuay said. “Ask them to designate the Old School a heritage building. They will say ‘no’ and then we go to the ombudsman.”

The committee discussed presenting a resolution to council with Mr. Bondi again asking why the school had to be torn down. “Leave it. Just ignore it,” he said. “Why can’t they leave it alone and allow this committee or some other committee to find ways?”

Mr. Smith pointed out that there are two factors involving this building, one being the fact that the roof has two or three years before it has to be replaced and the other being that the insurance is a $10,000 yearly cost. 

Councillor Shaffer then informed the committee that the Old School is under what is called care and maintenance and that figure has been whittled down. Indeed, the present day yearly cost for insurance for the school is $700.

The committee then passed a motion to ask council to leave the Old School standing until it is demonstrably necessary to tear it down and reads as follows in part: “whereas the Old School does not appear to be impinging on the proposed new complex; leaving the Old School as it is creates no undue burden on taxpayers; leaving the Old School as is would not hinder plans for the proposed new complex. Be it resolved that the that the Mindemoya Old School Repurposing Committee (MOSRC) requests that council leave the Old School building standing as is until such time as a valid need to demolish the Old School is demonstrated.” It was noted that a delay will give other organizations and interested parties an opportunity to explore other avenues to enable refurbishing and revitalizing the Old School.

There was also discussion at the meeting about looking at whether the Old School could be deemed a heritage building.