Publisher’s Column: Our Public Buildings Need More Than Patching. What Would You Do?

Recognition Day at Rotary Hall in Lion’s Head, April 19, 2023. A perfect event space, as long as you don’t need to hang up your coat or use the washroom.
By John Francis

As the pandemic recedes and our community emerges from three years of sheltering at home, our public spaces are getting used again.

Which puts their shortcomings into sharp focus.

The Rotary Hall in Lion’s Head hosted the Recognition Day festivities on April 19. Formerly the Eastnor Township Hall, this is probably the most important historic building in our municipality. It has been a community hub for 120 years and it’s still a perfect space to hold events, except…

The washrooms are grossly inadequate, the kitchen is in the basement and doesn’t meet accessibility standards. The hall needs a much larger entrance hallway and more utility space. It’s also a bit too small for quite a few events.

In 2015, 2016 and 2017, the municipality commissioned plans for a major renovation that would solve all those problems, with an anticipated cost of just under half a million. But the tenders came in much higher than expected — $779k and $830k. Council developed an acute case of sticker shock and backed away from the project. (It would probably come in well over a million now.)

They couldn’t see their way clear to spending 15% of a year’s budget on one small facility. Even amortized over 20 years it would have raised everybody’s taxes by more than one percent for 20 years. And none of the senior government levels had any programs that might have offered help.

So a significant historical landmark limps along — it’s not exactly falling down, but it sure isn’t beaming with pride. And we still need the Rotary Hall — the new arena/community centre in Lion’s Head will be a dramatic improvement in many ways but it does not include an event space.

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Then there’s the “new” community centre in Tobermory. It serves multiple functions for multiple organizations and is used daily. Built in the 1980s, it has had drinking water problems since day one. The municipality has thrown money at it many times, putting in stopgap measures that never quite solve the problem. Every time there is a halfway serious drought, the community centre well dries up.

Sign on the door of the community centre in Tobermory on April 7, 2023.

The most recent flare-up didn’t even involve a drought — the “boil water” advisory went up in early April, paralyzing the kitchen and disrupting various events.

The basic problem is that the community centre well is drawing water from a depleted aquifer. The more activity there is in the village — tourism for example — the more demand there is on that aquifer. The only real solution is a water main bringing in water from elsewhere — Georgian Bay for example. This would cost millions of dollars but it would serve the whole village and solve many of Tobermory’s ongoing logistical problems.

Building a town water system would require a budget in the millions. None of the senior levels of government has shown any interest in helping and the municipality has been unwilling to raise taxes enough to fund it.

What would you do?