News

Fire hall lease request not about a new museum

Laura Barton

By Laura Barton, Tribune Staff

Central Station Education Initiative, a non-profit group, hopes to turn Welland’s former Central Fire Hall into a multi-use facility with rental spaces and a "time capsule" area dedicated to fire and emergency services. File photo

Central Station Education Initiative, a non-profit group, hopes to turn Welland’s former Central Fire Hall into a multi-use facility with rental spaces and a "time capsule" area dedicated to fire and emergency services. File photo

There are new plans in an effort to preserve the heritage of downtown Welland’s Central Fire Station.

Welland council heard a presentation outlining these plans from Nora Reid and Claire Masswohl of the Central Station Education Initiative at Tuesday night’s general committee meeting.

Reid, chair of the incorporated not-for-profit group, said she and a team of others have previously come before council with the Merrittsville Fire Brigade in a heritage subcommittee capacity. At that time, the two groups were hoping to turn the hall into a museum, but the brigade has since backed out of the project.

The heritage committee subcommittee has formed CSEI in order to try to keep the fire hall from being sold to outside sources, which it worries wouldn’t preserve any of its heritage beyond the building’s structure because that has heritage designation. The items inside, however, the group fears will be lost.

Trying to turn the hall into a museum was too much work and too much money to bring it up to building codes and museum standards, so instead the group is approaching the hall from a different angle. Instead of a museum, portions of the hall would be used in a “time capsule” capacity.

Reid said these designated areas would showcase the hall as it was when it was operational in the 1920s. This would include having a vintage truck parked in the main-floor portion with a few other heritage items, and an upstairs bedroom to show how firefighters lived in the station.

“It’s not a museum,” Reid said. “It’s simply a portion set aside to show how things were.”

Other areas of the building will be available for renting out, and with this new model and the CSEI as a non-profit organization, the group sees it as a self-sustaining entity with the potential for educating the public on some of the city’s heritage.

The group isn’t asking for any money from the city, just a low-cost lease for at least five years, which Reid said is the minimum requirement for grants. Other than grants, the group expects to receive donations from the public.

She called the fire hall one of three major heritage pieces in Welland’s downtown core, the other two being Main Street Bridge and the courthouse on Cross Street.

“We’re confident we can achieve this,” she told council. “We only ask that you give us a chance.”

Reid admitted that the group is frustrated, having had meeting after meeting with city staff to try to work something out, especially after having been told in August 2016 that the city would work with it.

Masswohl said there have already been 18 meetings in total with city staff. Because of the delays, quotes CSEI is getting to do what renovations are necessary are “ambivalent.”

“The time passes and the building could have been half-done by now,” Masswohl said.

City chief administrative officer Gary Long said he felt like there were insinuations that the city doesn’t care about its heritage. He said having the central fire hall in the downtown core is “critical” to the city and that staff and council are not taking its fate lightly.

There were a few questions from councillors, including if this sort of display could be carried out at another location, but Reid said the hall and its heritage are “inextricably linked.”

Reid and Masswohl said they had submitted a budget and business plan to city staff, but will make sure that councillors have it as well.

Council received the information for consideration and an amendment was added by Ward 6 Coun. Bonnie Fokkens that council also consider leasing the hall to CSEI for five years for $1 a year.

The item will come before council again Oct. 17, at which time council may discuss the issue further before making a decision.

A staff report for the city’s Old Central Fire Hall Development Strategy was on the committee agenda for discussion, but in the wake of discussions from CSEI, council voted 5-to-4 not to discuss it.

lbarton@postmedia.com

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