By Chad Ingram
Minden Hills council will explore the viability of renovating the township’s former fire hall into a new space for local Scouts and Guides, as well as other community groups and functions.
As previously reported, in May, the leaders of local Guides and Scouts groups were dismayed when they discovered through an article in the Times that what has been the Scouts hall at the Minden Hills Community Centre will be turned into a dressing area and offices for a new Junior A team. The Haliburton County Huskies are set to take up residency in the new Minden arena this fall, and will pay the cost of renovating the former hall into a dressing area and offices for the team. The hall space was created through a donation from the Minden Rotary Club, used by the Guides and Scouts organizations for decades.
Reps from local Guides and Scouts groups have been meeting with Minden Hills staff in order to find a solution, with community services director Craig Belfry giving councillors an update during a June 10 online meeting.
“The municipality has different facilities that aren’t fully used,” Belfry said, suggesting the common room at the Minden Hills Cultural Centre, or Nature’s Place, also located on the cultural centre property, could be used for programming.
Representatives from the Guides and Scouts have said that part of the benefit of the hall was having a dedicated space where the groups could store all of their programming materials without having to lug it around each week, and also not having to clean the space to pristine condition after use. Other municipal spaces do not provide adequate space for storage.
“We’re very limited on what we can do,” Belfry said, adding that mobile storage racks could be purchased and housed within the arena and community centre.
For the time being, the groups’ programming materials are being stored within a viewing area at the new arena. Once the hockey season gets underway in September, those materials will have to be moved.
Belfry said he’d also been to look at the township’s former fire hall at the intersection of Prince and St. Germaine streets. The building has sat vacant, used for storage, since the township opened its new fire hall along Highway 35 in 2018. The former fire hall was also damaged by flooding in 2013.
“The building is not in any great state right now,” Belfry said, adding there would be a large cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to make it usable for public programming. “It’s not a great solution.”
He said the building could likely be used for storage of seasonal supplies, such as camping gear. Belfry also added that the Junior A team has offered financial assistance to the groups in order to help find a solution.
Belfry added that previously the organizations had not paid to use their space, and that they could apply for fees to be waived under the township’s policy, or suggested that a special rate for community groups, something that does not currently exist, be created.
“We have stakeholders, and then we have what I’ll call legacy stakeholders,” said Mayor Brent Devolin, adding that special circumstances should be made for longstanding community groups. “To me that’s a global conversation this council has never had.”
Belfry also suggested there are other, non-municipal facilities, such as the Lions Hall or churches, that could be used by the Guides and Scouts.
Councillor Pam Sayne said she was embarrassed by the situation, and wanted to see the former fire hall renovated for community use.
“I feel very strongly about this situation, and I’m also embarrassed on our behalf for not having this situation earlier,” Sayne said. “I’m afraid that I relied too much on others who have been around longer than me to ask that question – why is it called the Scouts hall? Why are we giving it away? I feel very strongly about this. Between six to 10 per cent of our youth in Minden Hills are involved in Scouts. We keep complaining about youth, and hanging out, and youth are saying, we don’t have anything to do. This is something that is a very exciting program for youth. It’s an international program, it’s been around a very, very long time, and we need to support this in every way that we support hockey … Just because they are not as flashy, they are behind the building, people don’t know about them … I am concerned that we could be doing a lot of work with them, instead of bullying them out of the space that they’ve had.”
Sayne said from what she understood, the Rotary Club had contributed up to $300,000 to the building.
“If we don’t have a legal right, we certainly have a moral right to support this group, and that we have to address, as a council, and as a municipality,” she continued. “We talk about what they can do, and they don’t need to have their supplies in one place. We shouldn’t be directing this group, they should be telling us what they want, and to replace what they need. They can’t be having their supplies in one place, and their activities in another. It doesn’t make sense. None of us would do that, so why are we asking them to do this?”
Sayne said the former fire hall made sense as a solution for many reasons.
“One of the reasons is that it’s central, and people can see it,” she said. “A second reason is that they wouldn’t need all the space, and there are a lot of other community groups and people around town that are saying they’d love to use some of that space.”
Sayne suggested part of the building could be used as a public area to get out of the sun or rain.
“We have young parents who are saying, you know, we’re around town with our young kids, we don’t have anywhere to gather and get of the sun,” she said. “You open up the two garage door bays, and you have a place for gathering for the community. You have a place for people to play checkers downtown. We don’t have that kind of protected space, that we could really gather and have a real, central focal point.”
Sayne suggested that the township might see some donated help from the community if council committed to the idea.
“I’m going to go back to the previous term of council, to before we even built the new fire hall,” said Devolin. “Part of the discussion in the previous term of council when we talked about building a new fire hall was that at some point, that building downtown would be repurposed. We had conversations about whether that would go to a committee … I know it’s my intent, that at some point along the way, it wouldn’t be just a crummy warehouse where we’re sticking stuff, like we currently are. The same as Councillor Sayne, to repurpose that, it would give a longer term solution for a number of groups including these parties. I would have a great appetite for it, and I think in terms of other stakeholders and groups and fundraisers and grant opportunities, that would be a terrific thing to look at it.”
Devolin and Sayne both suggested that part of the space could also be used by the artisans’ and farmers’ markets, once they return to Minden’s downtown.
Other members of council were on board.
“I would agree with pretty much everything Councillor Sayne said as well,” said Deputy Mayor Lisa Schell, “and I think it’s time that we make a decision on this building. Obviously it’s not in the 2021 budget, but moving forward, it’s definitely something we need to decide. It’s sitting there looking very derelict right now, and I know we’re using it for our own storage, but it has amazing potential.”
“We’re not just a hockey town, and it’s nice to be able to accommodate the other kids,” Schell said.
A staff report on exploring options for the building will come back to council at a later date, and in the meantime, council approved the purchase of mobile storage racks.