Council votes to sell former Westario building

Section: 
News

 

By Pauline Kerr

 

The old Westario building, for almost a decade the home of the Lake Huron Learning Collaborative, has been declared surplus by the municipality, the first step toward selling it.

 

During the May 9 council meeting, the decision was made to declare the building at 385 Queen St., Kincardine, surplus, as was discussed by the committee of the whole on May 2. A further decision was made to instruct staff to offer the property for sale via the request for proposal process.

 

According to the meeting agenda, the municipality is looking specifically for proposals from “parties who will provide vocational training, employment services and post-secondary education to the community.” The property will be marketed through a local realtor.

 

One of the more well-known groups that use the building is the Kinetic Knights Team 781 robotics club. The motion passed by councilstated assistance would be offered to the club in finding a new location.

 

The decision has left Lake Huron Learning in shock. A delegation led by former mayor Larry Kraemer attended the May 9 meeting, and left in frustration.

 

“The way the municipal agenda system works, we were already too late (to provide input into the decision),” he said. “There was no consultation, none of the groups in the learning centre were consulted.”

 

Kraemer spoke of the way a decade of work, mostly by volunteers, will come to an abrupt end in June.

 

A press release issued by Lake Huron Learning stated the collaborative’s board has decided it will not be offering courses to the community after the end of June, since it wouldn’t be fair to students to have the program end in December, when their lease expires, “unless council quickly reconsiders their decision.”

 

“What kind of message is this sending to the volunteer organizations of this community when they’re treated this way – especially during an election year?” asked Kraemer. The press release urges members of the community to voice their concerns by contacting council, and by checking the centre’s website (lakehuronlearn@brucetelecom.com).

 

Spencer Adams and Conner Dixon of the Kinetic Knights were part of the delegation. The two said the club would have to move out all their machines – or sell them, since it’s unlikely they’ll find a suitable space to house them.

 

“We aren’t going to find a big enough space in town that students can walk to from the high school,” Dixon said.

 

Janet Adams, a parent volunteer with the Robotics 781 team, said, “This is flying in the face of the public/private partnerships this community is noted for.”

 

Kraemer remarked on the fact the Kinetic Knights didn’t have to pay anything for their space, and other groups are in a similar situation. The learning centre is funded by Ontario Power Generation, not municipal taxes. He stressed the centre has good cash reserves and is not failing “as a result of poor operation, lack of funds or community interest.”

 

What the centre wants is to sign a new four-year lease, so it can implement plans to expand its educational opportunities.

 

The organizations that will be displaced from 385 Queen St. include not only Lake Huron Learning, but Adult Learning, Contact North, vpi (job readiness), Fanshawe College, Speech and Language, Chamber of Commerce and Kinetic Knights, as well as Community Living (through Adult Learning), United Way (meets local clients), LEADS (from Owen Sound), Victoria Art Gallery, Hawk’s Nest, job fairs, Scottish Festival (storage), Lions Club (storage), Walker House (storage) and WSIB (clients use centre services).

 

A staff report was presented as part of the committee of the whole portion of the May 2 council meeting. As stated in last week’s edition (pages 1 and 2), the staff report outlined three options for the building and reasons for those options. Council decided the municipality’s purposes would be best served by selling the building.

 

Following the meeting, Mayor Anne Eadie said, “As a retired teacher, education is important to me, but as mayor, I have to consider… financial implications.”

 

She further stated that many people think Kincardine needs a new high school – one that focuses on technology and trades as well as academics, to serve this community’s needs. She chairs an education subcommittee whose goal is to “enhance educational services in our community – not just in Kincardine but the surrounding area.”

 

Eadie noted there are a number of things that have to be considered as part of the whole picture. “There are always capital costs,” she said, adding,“saving capital costs would mean cash for future projects.” As well, the funding from the OPG has been channeled into the centre. “Perhaps we can use that funding for other municipal purposes.” Accessibility requirements are increasingly strict and must be considered.

 

The mayor said, “We’re encouraging buyers who have an interest in … accommodating some of the services already there.

 

As to what that might look like, Eadie said noting is “carved in stone until the RFPs are out and proposals come in.”