Council now riding horse in same direction

A dramatic last minute change of heart saved the former Morrisburg Collegiate Institute restoration project from being scrapped and the historic building from being slated for demolition.

After deferring the decision from the August council meeting, the final decision took place at the September 4 South Dundas council meeting. 

By the slimmest of margins South Dundas council voted to pursue the renovation of the old high school in Morrisburg.

At the meeting when the mayor first returned discussions to the table after the deferral, the majority opted to start over with a new plan.

When the mayor asked each council member to state their position for discussion before the final vote, deputy mayor Jim Locke and councillors Evonne Delegarde and Archie Mellan were in favour of scrapping the renovation project, tearing down the historic building, and starting the process from scratch with a view to constructing a new, smaller building.

Locke said, “I’ve done a lot of thinking on it, and I’ve come to the firm conclusion that it would be in the best interest of our taxpayers to invest in replacing the three storey portion of that building.” 

He suggested tearing down the old high school and building a much smaller new building to accommodate the municipality’s needs, excluding the library.

The relocation of the Morrisburg library branch to part of the vacated Morrisburg clinic space was one of the planned spin-off projects of the renovation.

Councillor Graham, who was firmly in favour of the restoration of the former Morrisburg Collegiate Institute at the August meeting, did not change his position.

He explained that, although it is a big project with a lot of money involved, in the worst cased scenario, the municipality will be looking to finance about $2 million, once the income from the agreement with the St. Lawrence Medical Clinic doctors and other internal funding allocations are taken into account.

“If we are lucky enough to be successful in our grant application, then we will only be looking for $1 million in our budget,” said Graham. “I don’t think we can afford to build new.” 

In his estimation, with a new build they would be looking for much more from the municipality’s budget. “Our budget couldn’t sustain $7 million. Restoring that building is the best thing, and the right thing to do for this community.”

The August 14 report to council showed that a new build of a 25,000 square foot building would likely cost between $6 and $7.5 million.

Councillor Delegarde continued to support a new build.

“The gap between rehabilitating the old building and building a new building is down to about half a million dollars to me,” she said explaining that she would like to see a 15,000 square foot one storey building like that of South Stormont.

“She’s a grand old, well built building, but I think it’s time we say goodbye to the old girl and build new,” said councillor Archie Mellan, who was struggling with this difficult  decision.

With three council members sharing the same opinion, South Dundas mayor Steven Byvelds said that although it appeared he was not going to get the opportunity to break a tie vote, he still wanted to make his opinion known.

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“I have faith in the work that has been done, in the skills of the firm, in the engineering that has been done and in the building,” said Mayor Byvelds. 

He added that resetting the project for a different one and delaying it for at least another year was a major challenge for him, and one that he took seriously into account through his decision making process. 

“I am disappointed to see council going in the direction they are going,” said councillor Graham. “If you do this, we’ve lost all the money we’ve put into the studies and plans, and are adding demolition costs. And, now what do we do for the doctors? If we do this, we could be looking at delaying having something for them two to three more years down the road. With this decision, we would be throwing a lot of money out the window.”

Councillor Archie Mellan then spoke up. 

“I’ve changed my mind on this six times today and I’m going to change my mind again,” he said. “I’d hate to see us lose that old building. I want to see the old high school kept. I’m not going to let her go. I say rehabilitate it. Let’s keep the old high school. I’m not going to change my mind again.”

After a recorded vote, requested by Delegarde, Mayor Byvelds said, “I know this was a challenging decision, but now we have voted as a council to move forward with this project.”

“I will support council’s decision 100 percent through this project,” added deputy mayor Locke. “We all ride the horse in the same direction, that’s the only way this works.” 

Council passed a motion to allow staff to negotiate with Robert J. Bourgeon & Associates Ltd., the contractor that submitted the lowest bid of $3,857,000 to get the renovation project started.

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