Big project hot topic at small meeting


Of the approximately 10,000 residents of South Dundas, one quarter of one percent of the population attended council’s open forum meeting at the Iroquois Civic Centre last Tuesday evening.

Asked if he was disappointed with the turnout, South Dundas Mayor Steven Byvelds said, “No. I think the turn out was good. It is always hard to anticipate how many will show, but it was as I expected.”

The main topic of discussion that evening was also exactly what the mayor expected.

The hottest topic of interest the 25 meeting attendees wanted council to discuss was the refurbishment of the former Morrisburg Collegiate Institute.

One third of the questions asked of council by area residents concerned the high school refurbishment project.

“What’s wrong with the old municipal building?” asked Bert Geertsma. “I can’t see the feasibility of going to Morrisburg,” he said, suggesting a referendum on the issue. Geertsma was the only person who suggested a referendum on the issue, but others did ask, why the move out of Williamsburg? 

Byvelds pointed out that, from the time of amalgamation, housing the municipal offices at Williamsburg was always meant to be temporary, and that the municipality has definitely outgrown that building.

“The issue of (renovating) the old high school has been debated for two years, so I don’t think people didn’t have a chance to tell us their stance,” said Mayor Byvelds. “Public opinion is likely as divided as council was the night we made the decision.”

“The (old high school) renovation was the most economical option. It’s $4 million,” said Byvelds. “Two engineering firms have told us that building is structurally sound or we wouldn’t have gone down that road. The decision was not made on a whim.”

“The high school renovation is a done deal, it’s not going to stop,” said South Dundas deputy mayor Jim Locke. “In a township with virtually no debt and reserves that are in good shape, it’s not that big a deal. The township can handle it.”

Clare Brown asked questions concerning the proportion of the cost of the project that will cover the medical and municipal portions of the building.

The medical portion of the building is about 25 percent of the total square footage, but the cost of the medical space is about 40 percent of the $4 million price tag.

“When you go to medical facilities they look expensive, because they are expensive,” said Mayor Byvelds. The doctors’ lease contribution agreement will only cover about 60-75 percent of the entire cost of the medical portion of the building, but Byvelds said that council decided that the municipality will cover the extra.

According to Byvelds, the St. Lawrence Medical Clinic felt strongly that with the township’s help, they would be able to use the new, much improved space, to help entice new doctors to the community in a time when some of the existing doctors are planning retirements.

“With a new building, I think that gives us an opportunity to bring medical services in South Dundas to a higher level,” said Byvelds. “We didn’t want to be known as the council that chased the doctors out of South Dundas.”

Liz Daoust asked about the cost of utilities for the building.

“The doctors will cover their own utilities and we (municipality) will cover ours,” said Byvelds.

She questioned the heat and hydro costs in such a large building.

“You are paying $16,000 per year already and there’s no one in it. Now, we are going to be much more efficient with spending your tax dollars,” said Byvelds.

Glenn Beckstead and Leslie Disheau both asked about the removal of asbestos from the building in such close proximity to a school.

“I hope you will be in communication with the Upper Canada District School Board as to when the cleanup of asbestos will happen, so that parents are well informed before any kind of emergency happens,” said Disheau. 

“That is not a bad suggestion,” said Byvelds. “It makes sense.”

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