Fate of old school house discussed

Port McNeill held a public consultation to hear the communities thoughts on the old school house building.

What to do with Port McNeill’s old schoolhouse was the topic of discussion at a public consultation meeting Dec. 5, and it was a lively one.

Mayor Shirley Ackland called the meeting to order, welcomed the crowd, and then opened the floor up for questions regarding the future of the building.

One resident was concerned about the senior’s centre. “The senior’s centre in room five is also a concern of mine, and a priority for us (council) is to build a senior’s community centre,” said Ackland.

Another asked if the insurance on the building is carried by the town.

“It is insured by the town, the whole building,” said Treasurer Dan Rodin, adding they “also have insurance for the use of the building as a recreation centre.”

The next question from the audience was how the figure of a $33,0000 deficit was arrived at.

“Basically there’s what we call direct costs and indirect costs,” said Rodin. “The indirect costs would be the staff time that we allocate to our recreation facilities – so $40,0000 is the indirect cost which would be reallocated. So in this budget what we’re showing is the direct costs, which would be the heating, the lighting, and those kinds of things. That’s why there’s that discrepancy.”

Council was asked if would get a quote for demolition or just go by the $1.3 million estimate that is listed in the budget.

Rodin replied “let’s back up a bit. The problem with the school at this point in time is that it’s costing us about $33,0000 to operate… It’s basically a bit like a money pit, we’re gonna wind up putting a lot of money into it over the next while to maintain the asset. It’s time now that we started thinking about what we do want to do with it.”

The next speaker said it is his understanding the building is currently serving more users than just North Island Community Services, and that fact isn’t being properly reflected in the report to council.

He added it is important to understand there are programs and possibilities for groups who may not be able to pay to use the building, but the town should be providing a service which would be reasonable to cover with tax dollars.

“Good point, that’s exactly why we have said we have no short-term plans,” said Ackland. “We are really looking strategically into the future to see if this is a building we want to keep, knowing exactly how much it actually brings to this community, and what exactly we should put in its place” if council chooses to do replace the building.

Another resident asked if there were grants the town could apply for to rebuild the old schoolhouse.

“Grants to do repairs are rare,” said Ackland. (grants are) “typically for new construction, and even those are rare. We’ve been waiting for infrastructure grants from the federal government. We had a grant that was turned down where we wanted to build a senior’s facility. Infrastructure grants do come out, but they trickle out. Typically they do not involve older buildings unless there’s new, greener energies involved, and again, with the school at that age it gets to be tricky.” Ackland said council is “always on the lookout for grants, there isn’t one that gets by us.”

One resident asked how the process now moves forward.

“Typically when you have a public consultation, we consider all the information. As we said, there isn’t a plan for today, tomorrow, or the next month. We might decide we want another public consultation when we sort of filter down the kinds of thing that we might be considering,” said Ackland.

In a subsequent interview, Councillor Jay Dixon said it was “good to see so many community members attend and provide their input towards this important decision. We hope to hear more from the community about the building’s long-term future. We believe it is important to take a good look at our aging infrastructure.

“We need to ask ourselves how much money do we want to invest in keeping these buildings from falling apart and think towards the future of Port McNeill. Over the past years there has been a great deal of conversation in the community about exploring the possibility of a new multi use facility. Analyzing how much we spend on our aging infrastructure is essential if this becomes something we want to pursue as a community.”

The schoolhouse will need to have major repairs.

The roof needs to be replaced, at a cost of about $260,000:  the exterior plywood panels and cladding should be replaced:  and energy-efficient doors and windows installed, with an estimated cost of between $500,000 – $700,000.

The major tenant of the facility, North Island Community Services, has been advised the lease might not be renewed when it expires Dec. 31, 2016.

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