Ilfracombe community hall...
Ilfracombe community hall in jeopardy
HUNTSVILLE – The locks have been changed on the Ilfracombe schoolhouse.
The Buck Lake Ilfracombe Association and residents have been locked out of the Ilfracombe Community Centre by Trillium Lakelands District School Board, which owns the property.
The schoolhouse, which has acted for more than 40 years as a meeting place for the Buck Lake Ilfracombe Association and a community hall for the hamlet of Ilfracombe, is no longer open to the community after Trillium Lakelands District School Board locked it out.
Association director Neil Haist and president Susan Quinn asked the Town of Huntsville’s corporate services committee on Aug. 7 to help save the community centre by buying it from the school board.
The property is assessed at about $76,000, but the school board is required by provincial legislation to sell the property at fair market value. Town staff estimate the fair market value of the waterfront property at close to $200,000.
The municipality believed it owned the property and had been paying some of the hydro bills until 2008. An investigation into the ownership of the property, however, showed the school board owned it.
The school board has since declared the land surplus.
The association had been maintaining the building for decades and using it as a meeting place.
“When the issue came up that the schoolhouse wasn’t the town’s, there was some uncertainty about what was going to happen to it,” said Haist. “We got a petition going and submitted it to the town. We had approximately 190 names on it.”
The association hosts meetings and events in the schoolhouse. It also acts as a community hall and library. The grounds are used for picnics, family reunions, community garage sales, educational programs on sustainable waterfront living, planning for projects such as fish restocking, boating education, beach signage, participation in the lake partner program and Muskoka Watershed Council projects.
Without the centre, said Haist, these activities would disappear.
He said the centre was part of the social fabric of the community that allows people to connect. It also facilitates volunteer opportunities and youth involvement, he said.
But the town’s corporate services committee members declined the offer submitted by the school board to purchase the building at fair market value. A staff report presented by chief administrative officer Kelly Pender stated the municipality would likely have to spend thousands of dollars to purchase, renovate or possibly demolish the building.
Committee forwarded its decision to council. Council meets Aug. 20.
Haist seemed shocked that the town inferred the building needed substantial and costly upgrades and structural improvements.
“I’m floored that a small community centre now has to look like town hall,” he said. “I think there is another way to deal with this.”
Mayor Claude Doughty said he worked closely with the association four or five years ago trying to sort out who owned the building and supporting its incorporation to facilitate a transfer of the property to the association.
“But, clearly, that’s not going to happen,” said Doughty. “No one has the money to buy it.”
He said the town has not purchased a community hall for many years.
“We’re actually looking at divesting ourselves of one (Chaffey Hall) and reorganizing others,” said Doughty. “We haven’t budgeted for purchasing another.”
He noted that an association is asking for a meeting place and councillors do not think purchasing the building for that purpose is an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars.
Doughty said if the town was to buy the schoolhouse it would have to complete upgrades in accordance with town policies.
“We need to upgrade that building to the accessibility standards that we’re provincially mandated to do,” he said. “It begs the question: we’ve struggled to find the money to upgrade the hall we have in Aspdin, why would we be spending money on a hall that’s going to require even more expenditure for those sorts of things?”
While he said the building plays an important role for community members during the summer months, he added it does not compare with a hall that is used year-round.
“This is a summer-only building that’s used for a few weekends,” he said. “It doesn’t have the year-round aspect that would make it more relevant to the community.”
Quinn said she was disappointed with the committee’s decision though she half expected it.
“It’s going to be devastating for a lot of people, especially the older people in our community because they helped maintain it. It’s part of their lives,” said Quinn.
She gave the example of a 90-year-old community member who started the library there and had been running it for years.
The association has items in the building, such as the library, chairs, pictures and artifacts, which Quinn said it lost access to when it was locked out.
Catherine Shedden, communications manager for the school board, said the town had been leasing the schoolhouse from the school board for at least 15 years at no charge.
“The town is no longer interested in the arrangement because it is concerned with liability, so the board has now taken it back. The board is also not interested in keeping it due to potential liability, so we’re going through the process (of selling it),” said Shedden. “We don’t need the building short- or long-term and we don’t want the liability.”
She said the board did not know who had keys to the building so it changed the locks to keep the building secure. But the board is working with the association to give it access so it can get its items out of the building.
The next step is for the school board to decide if it will sell the building through a sealed bid process or through real estate. The board is expected to make its decision in September.