ISAACS HARBOUR – No small community wants to lose infrastructure but sometimes the cost of maintaining old buildings is too great and the population is too small to maintain the large, aging buildings that serviced communities for decades.
Isaacs Harbour is in this conundrum this spring regarding the Isaacs Harbour District Medical Centre, which has not seen a doctor on site for many years. The building, a former school, houses the post office, a fitness centre and offers space for a small lending library, second-hand donation and sales table and food pantry.
Councillor Hudson MacLeod brought up the issue of the building and its future at the Municipality of the District of Guysborough’s (MODG) committee of the whole meeting last month. The lease for the building, which was held by the centre’s now defunct board of directors, was up in April and the cost to operate and maintain the building was high.
The MODG, which owns the building, agreed to extend the lease into June, so community members could formulate a course of action for the future of the centre.
On April 20, a group of community members met to discuss next steps. Councillor MacLeod attended the meeting as did Isaacs Harbour’s postmaster Dee MacLeod. They spoke to The Journal about the meeting, community needs and the future of the building on April 27.
Councillor MacLeod said, “Our stance on it as the municipality is we’re going to get another three months to see if they can get a board together, come up with a plan, look at financially if they can get some grants…Since it’s owned by the municipality, but it’s leased to the medical centre, they have control of it because they have a board. So, they have to make a decision to keep or to give it back to the municipality.”
According to Councillor MacLeod the heating and electricity cost incurred for the building last year stands at approximately $38,000. The building has only one tenant, the post office, which pays a monthly rate of $300 – a fee agreed upon since the postmaster serves as the de facto superintendent for the building.
“Operations is the big thing,” said Councillor MacLeod, “It’s a small community, there’s not many people around the area...It’s a building that was built 70 or 80 years ago. It needs a lot of maintenance and upkeep and it’s hard to keep a building this size open with just a gym [which generates no revenue] and post office.”
Postmaster MacLeod added, “The population in this area, there’s a lot of low-income, so it’s not like you’re making a lot of money off any donated items that come in.”
If the building is returned to the MODG and the lease is not renewed, Councillor MacLeod said the plan for the municipality would likely be to put the building back up for lease, “Because when these schools were given to the municipalities, the municipalities gave them to community groups. The first option right now is for the one that holds it [the lease], the district medical centre. And, if they give it up, we advertise it back out to any other community groups or organizations that would like to take it over.”
At the committee of the whole meeting, Councillor Mary Desmond suggested the community investigate the possibility of converting some of the space into apartments. Councillor MacLeod said that was discussed at the meeting regarding the future of the building on April 20, but he believes the cost would be prohibitive and new construction would be preferable to fill that need in the community.
Asked if an environmental audit had ever been conducted on the building, Councillor MacLeod said it hadn’t.
Postmaster MacLeod noted that any renovations to the building would be costly as they would involve rewiring, inclusion of accessibility features and likely remediation measures for older materials.
“One of the other questions, on the building side of it,” said Councillor MacLeod, “the electrical, we did it about six years ago. Because it’s only 100 amps we’d have to bring it up to 200 amps and the quote at that time was 36 or 38,000 dollars just on the electrical side…to me as a councillor, that’s a no-no. We can’t afford that.”
Councillor MacLeod told The Journal he thinks the building is, “too big for the area….people have got to be realistic and they’ve got to realize this is 2023; we’re not back to 1970 [when there were a lot of people in the community].”
The April 20 meeting set up a working group with members representing the post office, the fire department, previous board members and other stakeholders including Councillor MacLeod as a resource linking the group to the municipality.
“Now it’s their job to go out and get board members and see if they want it [the building]. Once they get board members, I said three months now to come up with a plan,” Councillor MacLeod said, noting that the plan would have to be brought to the municipality.
Postmaster MacLeod told The Journal, “I think there is a confusion in the community as to how to start that board. I know, in the meeting, that first working group meeting, my expectation and hope was I would have been able to help and get on that board and develop a plan. I had floor plans and everything for a perfect little building and how to make it. But, unfortunately, it is a conflict of interest for me. I cannot sit on a board that I would rent from, so I had to step back and, as of right now, I am not sure there’s anyone in the community that is stepping forward to carry it on. There needs to be one person that someone can go to and say, ‘Okay, we need to start this.’ But unfortunately, right now, there’s just nobody yet.”
She added that her dream would be to have the building taken down and a small one take its place to fill the needs of the community.
Councillor MacLeod said the first step is to create a board, and then come to the municipality with a plan. Funding is available, he said, noting the example of the Hadleyville Volunteer Fire Department which was recently given $200,000 by the municipality. “But they have to fundraise [a certain amount], too.
“We’ve got to move forward and see what we can do. Hopefully, we can do something. It’s the time now to do it,” he said.