Time has run out for the Town of Grand Bank’s municipal centre, at least in its current form.
On Friday, April 26, the town announced the building will be closed to all users on May 31. In addition to housing the municipality’s administration services, it’s used by numerous community groups and organizations.
The facility – formerly a school – suffered extensive damage to its roof and interior during a major winter storm five years ago.
A lengthy legal battle with the town’s insurer over funds to replace the roof ensued but was ultimately unsuccessful.
Since the storm, the structure has continued to deteriorate.
Mayor Rex Matthews told The Southern Gazette the town was able to adequately manage the most heavily damaged area until recent months when the leaks and musky odour became too severe.
The decision was made to close down the building out of safety and health concerns for staff.
“It just got to the point that you couldn’t control it anymore. It was out of control,” Matthews said.
Air quality testing conducted last fall highlighted concerns in some areas of the building, Matthews said. Additional testing was carried out in recent weeks. Those results had not been received as of Wednesday, May 1, but Matthews said it was not hard to conclude what they will show.
“We know it’s not a good environment to be working in,” Matthews said.
The town has secured just over 2,000 square feet of office space in the former federal building on Church Street to conduct municipal business at a cost of approximately $30,000 annually.
The building, which still houses Canada Post, was sold privately in the past year, Matthews acknowledged.
The space includes several offices and boardrooms over two floors. The town is scheduled to make the transition to the new space on May 13.
“Everything’s there to suit our needs,” he said.
Matthews indicated the move will save the town some money as operation of the municipal centre was quite costly — the total bill in 2018 came to $138,000, including $68,000 for oil, roughly $13,000 for electricity and $19,000 for insurance.
“It’s a saving there that we can put towards whatever we’re going to do – whether we retrofit (the municipal centre) on a smaller scale or we get a new building, we should be able to put a bit of money aside to go towards the cost of that,” Matthews said.
The town is now undertaking a process to determine a permanent home for its operations.
Government funding has been approved to carry out a feasibility study — as required by the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment — to figure out what that should entail. The process will include public consultation.
“We have to balance the wants and the needs of the municipality and the taxpayers’ ability to be able to afford to do this." — Mayor Rex Matthews
Matthews told The Southern Gazette he hopes a tender to hire a consultant to complete the study will go out this summer.
Given the demographic challenges of the town, the mayor said care must be taken to ensure future residents are not unnecessarily burdened by the decision that is made.
“We have to balance the wants and the needs of the municipality and the taxpayers’ ability to be able to afford to do this,” he said.
Closure causes upheaval for community groups
The impending closure of the municipal centre has affected a number of community groups and organizations who use the facility.
Though owned by the Town of Grand Bank, the building has become a community space as much as a place for municipal business.
Among the many users of the facility are the Grand Bank Community Youth Network (CYN), Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps 71 Atlantic, Active Start, the local TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) chapter, Grand Bank Heritage Society, Grand Bank Recreation Commission, the senior dance class, the wellness centre workout group, the local running club as well as groups using the building’s gymnasium for recreational activities.
Marie Dunne, commanding officer for the sea cadet corps, said it’s a big loss.
The organization uses the facility for office and storage space in addition to hosting its regular meeting in the building.
“We knew something had to be done with the building, but we didn’t figure we’d have to leave, not this fast,” she said.
There are limited options for the cadets to hold their meetings. As the Grand Bank Lions Club is the group’s sponsor, she said use of its building might be a possibility. Otherwise, the gymnasium at John Burke High School would seem to be the only other suitable venue.
The cadets were also paying an affordable rent for storage and office space at the municipal centre. Finding an alternative that fits its budget may be difficult, she said.
“There’s a limited amount of money,” Dunne said.
Likewise, Travis Parsons, chair of the board of directors for CYN in Grand Bank, said the short notice has left the organization scrambling to find another space.
In an email to The Southern Gazette, Parsons said the CYN operates on minimal core funding and struggles to pay the bills, including two full-time staff, subsidized rent to the town, utilities and program costs.
“Having to move to a new building has not only brought on the challenge of moving all of our items in just one month, but we first have to find a place to go, and come up with some sort of way to pay for it,” Parsons wrote.
Parsons hopes the feasibility study the town is undertaking to look into options for space to provide municipal services will result in a building that includes room for community groups and organizations as well.
The plan right now is to assess the costs of several buildings we have inquired about, seek a reasonable increase in our core funding to help cover higher cost of rent and utilities, and then meet with our council to develop a plan to make this work for our organization, our youth participants, and all of the residents of the Grand Bank, Fortune, and Lamaline areas,” Parsons wrote.
Mayor Rex Matthews acknowledged displacement of the centre’s users of the was the hardest part of making the decision to close the facility.
Matthews said it’s important the community — including the school, churches and service groups – come onboard to help out.