Home » Arts council seeks new MOU for old fire hall

Posted: March 24, 2015

Arts council seeks new MOU for old fire hall

By Ian Cobb/e-KNOW

oldFireHallCranbrook and District Arts Council (CDAC) renewed efforts last night to secure hold of Fire Hall No. 1 as a future home of arts and culture in the city.

Council heard a detailed presentation from CDAC president Sioban Staplin and CDAC director Bill McColl, including an update on plans to repurpose the old fire hall, how funding efforts have progressed and a request for a new Memorandum of Agreement (MOU) with the city regarding use of the building.

“For the past three years the CDAC has been working with the city to make the Fire Hall Arts Centre a reality,” Staplin stated.

“Until last December we had a Memorandum of Understanding in place which outlined the terms and relationship between the arts council and the city with regards to this important project. This was a well-crafted document, which served both parties very well.

Click to enlarge images. Image courtesy CDAC
Click to enlarge images. Image courtesy CDAC

“When Fire Hall No. 1 was vacated by Search and Rescue the CDAC renewed efforts towards our vision to renovate and repurpose the fire hall into a home for the arts in the heart of our community. At the first meeting with (Chief administrative Officer) Wayne Staudt and his staff in late 2013 an agreement-in-principle was suggested. This resulted in the MOU that was adopted in March of 2014. With that document in place, the CDAC proceeded to move forward in good faith to raise significant sums of money for the project,” Staplin said, detailing fundraising efforts to date.

“Of course, these grants were applied for in good faith because the MOU was in place; however, they must be spent within a specified period of time and represent significant income to the local firms that would be contracted to carry out the work. Clearly in order for us to continue with our fundraising efforts we will at minimum need to move forward with a new MOU,” she told council.

Coun. Danielle Cardozo
Coun. Danielle Cardozo

Coun. Danielle Cardozo explained the previous MOU and commitment to provide up to $500,000 to help upgrade the old fire hall was scrapped because “council has made it clear we don’t want this to be a burden on taxpayers.

“The issue is the building. It’s not whether we support you. There is enough grant money out there,” she said, adding, “I’d like to see this happen.”

Coun. Wesly Graham asked the delegation if the CDAC has considered “a Plan B” in the event they cannot obtain use of the old fire hall.

“We’ve ignored Plan B pretty hard. We can’t stay where we are. Our rent is too high and the facility is too small,” McColl responded.

Mayor Lee Pratt
Mayor Lee Pratt

Mayor Lee Pratt said that while he supports arts and culture in the city, he’s concerned about the CDAC basing all of its funding support on grants, noting it’s like spending a paycheque before payday.

“I don’t see where you have made any progress as an organization. I’m thinking you are a little too ambitious with your plans,” he said.

Staplin replied that a planned raffle is expected to add $25,000 to $30,000 a year to offset operating costs and “there are many avenues in our business plan that do cover projections

McColl added that a “properly written” MOU could ensure costs do no fall on the city “to reassure the taxpayer. I think if we write those documents correctly the city can be protected.”

CDAC director Bill McColl
CDAC director Bill McColl

Pratt said that would “not necessarily” be true. “We do have a rough estimate to bring that building up to code and it is very substantial,” he said, adding grant money comes from one level of government or another and it all comes from the same taxpayers.

“We’re dealing with a lot of unknowns,” Pratt said.

Coun. Tom Shypitka asked the delegates why the CDAC thinks it can be a central organization for arts in the community, noting his “pet peeve” with the arts council in the past has been it is “a lot of individuals and not a lot of collaboration.”

Staplin, president for only six months now, admitted, “In previous years the council has not shown it has a large capacity to carry out these kinds of things” but efforts are being made to “build capacity and act as advocates” for the arts community.

“I take it as a personal challenge to bring a renewed vitality to the Cranbrook and District Arts Council,” she said.

A couple of council members took time to celebrate the volunteers involved.

“Some communities are not lucky enough to have an organization to step up” and do what the CDAC has done, Cardozo said.

“This is a huge amount of work being done by volunteers for no remuneration so we all owe you a debt of gratitude,” added Coun. Norma Blissett.

Mayor Pratt concluded following the presentation, “It was a report that was well presented.”

Prior to hearing from the delegation, while approving the meeting agenda, council agreed to scratch a report recommendation from the Economic Development Office regarding options for the future use of Fire Hall No. 1.

No conclusion was reached during the 35 minute long discussion.

The following is a copy of Staplin’s presentation to city council.

Sioban Staplin, CDAC President
Sioban Staplin, CDAC President

We are here today to speak to about Cranbrook and District Arts Council’s plans to repurpose Fire Hall No. 1 into a vibrant arts and cultural centre that will enrich the lives of the citizens of Cranbrook.

We propose an arts educational centre that will not only contribute greatly to downtown economic revitalization, but will also enhance the quality of life for our community.

Significant investment of time and public money has gone into a Cultural Scan, a Cultural Plan, downtown revitalization planning charrettes and the Official Community Plan. The Cultural Scan included a thorough market analysis of arts programs in the city and the establishment of a centralized hub for arts and culture was identified as a priority. Included in these studies is the recognition that the CDAC is the organization that is best positioned to most effectively raise the required funds to renovate the fire hall and to operate the arts centre.

A vibrant arts and culture sector is an integral part of a healthy and growing community. Here we have an exceptional opportunity in that we have a designated heritage building in a central location that provides many unique qualities that will enhance the delivery of arts and cultural programs and events.

Kimberley's Centre 64
Kimberley’s Centre 64

There are many examples of arts councils running successful and dynamic arts centres in their communities in partnership with their municipalities. We only need to look to Kimberley, Courtney-Comox, Prince George, Fernie, Qualicum and Nelson to find cities that have conscientiously invested in and supported the arts. Just last week during address to the Chamber of Commerce, Minister of Industry James Moore was very clear in his support of municipal investment in the arts. It makes economic sense.

Recognizing this, council’s commitment to reducing tax payer burden, may I say that investment can take many forms – it does not have to be strictly monetary.
For the past three years the CDAC has been working with the city to make the Fire Hall Arts Centre a reality.

Until last December we had a Memorandum of Understanding in place which outlined the terms and relationship between the arts council and the city with regards to this important project. This was a well-crafted document, which served both parties very well.

The old fire hall is a key part of Cranbrook's heritage.
The old fire hall is a key part of Cranbrook’s heritage.

When Fire Hall No. 1 was vacated by Search and Rescue the CADC renewed efforts towards our vision renovate and repurpose the fire hall into a home for the arts in the heart of our community. At the first meeting with Wayne Staudt and his staff in late 2013 an agreement in principle was suggested. This resulted in the MOU that was adopted in March of 2014. With that document in place, the CDAC proceeded to move forward in good faith to raise significant sums of money for the project.

Last year, with the MOU in place, and in anticipation of occupancy by the arts council the city spent more than $100,000 removing asbestos.

To date the arts council has applied for several major grants and we have secured two. The first was from CKCA for $20,000. We have utilized $3,500 of it for a local firm Nelson Engineering to carry out a structural assessment of the building. City staff has a copy, and is aware of the priorities for repairs that were identified; $16,000 remains and we intend to engage a developer to come in and assess the project. We will provide them with several scenarios as to the planned uses of the facility and a proposed time line for the phasing-in of each area of the building starting with the main floor.

We will have the firm determine electrical, mechanical and plumbing needs and provide a cost estimate of the work, which would be required to bring the building up to code. Then we would then have concrete figures for grant applications. With some preliminary estimates we have been able to apply for Western Diversification Infrastructure Funds in the amount of $400,000 for roof repairs. We have also applied for Community Initiative funding and a small grant from the Cranbrook Foundation. We have initiated our BC Heritage Legacy Fund application for $20,000 and are pursuing additional grants. In total we have identified over $1 million in available funds. As funds come in we can apply for matching grants and hope to leverage funds as much as possible.

Further, we also already received a $50,000 grant for improving access to the second floor. We propose the installation a lift or an elevator. Of course, these grants were applied for in good faith because the MOU was in place; however, they must be spent within a specified period of time and represent significant income to the local firms that would be contracted to carry out the work. Clearly in order for us to continue with our fundraising efforts we will at minimum need to move forward with a new MOU.

Courtesy CDAC.
Courtesy CDAC.

The business plan that we distributed recently outlines how the project can go forward as a sustainable enterprise with a professional gallery, gift shop and classroom and workshop space. We will continue to refine and update our plan as questions arise and as new information comes forward – a key piece of information that is needed to generate more solid figures is certainty around the form that a potential lease agreement and renovation plan will take.

We suggest a model wherein:
1. An MOU is in place that allows the CDAC raise funds and carry out the needed upgrades to the building under the guidance of city staff while maintaining the fire hall’s valuable historical integrity.
2. The city retains ownership of a substantially enhanced asset and;
3. Leases the building to the CDAC at a reasonable rent.

We certainly appreciate the reluctance on the part of city council to expose the taxpayer to any unneeded expense.

Again, we are not asking for further major expenditures from the city. Operating costs for the arts centre will be largely the CDAC’s responsibility. The details of this will need to be discussed at additional meetings and in addenda to our business plan where any questions of mayor and council and staff will be answered.

Establishing an appropriate and permanent home for the arts has been the goal of the arts council for many years and we are confident that we can provide the services that our citizens are looking for. For example, with expanded facilities and with anticipated sponsorships from local business we can run a complete roster of children’s and youth programs and workshops at affordable rates.

The government provides a $500 tax credit per child to offset the costs of participation in arts lessons. The programs must run either five consecutive days or eight consecutive weeks to qualify. Programs of this length are not available in Cranbrook and are best offered by artists in an arts facility. Workshops have been hampered by our small quarters and have thus not been viable.

There is also demand to provide arts education to our young people from the secondary schools to prepare them for further careers in Emily Carr or Banff School of Fine Arts, for example. In cooperation with the secondary schools we will develop a curriculum for these students to provide a bridge from High school to college.
This just touches on one program that expanded capacity will enable us to present

In conclusion, we request meetings with council and staff to ensure that all questions about this project and our business plan are discussed and answered to everyone’s complete satisfaction and that a new MOU be entered into for a period of time during which time a lease agreement can be developed.

Working together towards common goals builds great communities. The Fire Hall Arts Centre is a wonderful economic development opportunity for our city that will be catalyst for growth both for the work of the arts council and arts and culture in the City of Cranbrook.


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