By Chad Ingram
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union has purchased the former Frost Centre south of Dorset.
“We’ve been looking for a fairly long time to create a training centre,” OPSEU president Warren ‘”Smokey” Thomas told the Times. Thomas explained the union hosts a variety of conferences and training events for its members, including stewards, local presidents, treasurers, etc., and their families. “We do some retreats every year,” he said. “We’ve always been reliant on hotels.”
Used as a Ministry of Natural Resources training and research facility for decades, the Leslie M. Frost Natural Resource Centre was closed by the provincial government in 2004. Between 2008 and 2010, the facility, which sits on the shores of St. Nora Lake, was used as an environmentally focused private school. It has sat vacant for the past decade and in November, the province, through Crown corporation Infrastructure Ontario, commercially listed the 40-plus-acre property for sale through CBRE (Coldwell Banker Richard Ellis) Limited Real Estate Brokerage.
The property was severed from a larger 26,000-hectare parcel of Crown land. It houses some 20 buildings, including a dining hall, dormitories, former educational spaces and various outbuildings.
The listing price was $1.1 million, with interested parties submitting bids. Thomas was notified through a union member that the property was for sale. “Apparently, there were multiple bids,” he said.
OPSEU’s bid was for $3.2 million, and Thomas found out just before Christmas had been successful.
It will likely be two to three years before the union begins using the facility.
“It needs extensive renovations,” Thomas said, adding the first task would be to install new roofs on the buildings. He noted OPSEU may not use all of the buildings on-site.
“The bones are good, is what we’ve been told,” Thomas said of the buildings, adding most would likely be gutted, their interiors renovated. “It probably all needs to be redone.”
As for that renovation work, “We use union whenever possible … and we use unionized trades when possible,” he said. “And we try to use local.”
There are no plans for new construction.
“We won’t be building any new buildings,” Thomas said, adding all easements over the property for access to trails and a boat will be respected. Thomas also said OPSEU would be open to community collaboration on use of the property.
The former Frost Centre is located in the Township of Algonquin Highlands and Mayor Carol Moffatt has been in communication with Thomas, who gave her a call to inform of the union’s purchase of the property.
“The revitalization of the historic property as an education facility will provide many employment opportunities across a range of fields,” Moffatt wrote in a social media post. “President Thomas and I spoke of the many opportunities for collaboration and partnership between the facility and the community at large; and I look forward to helping broker some local connections.”
Back in 2013, the township had been offered the opportunity to purchase the facility. As Moffatt wrote, “the condition of the property and potential costs of purchase and necessary work was determined to well beyond the scope and capacity of the municipality.”
In November, Algonquin Highlands council ratified the township’s purchase of the building that houses its trails office and the triangular piece of property it sits on, previously part of the Frost Centre complex. The township had previously leased the space from the province, paying about $250,000 for its purchase.