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LBA members vote to replace dining hall with a new multi-purpose centre

Editor’s note: The reporter on this article is a member of the LBA and attended the meeting as such, but the reporting on the meeting was done with the knowledge of the LBA board.

On May 15, members of the Livestock Breeder’s Association of the District of Beauharnois (LBA), the organization that manages the Ormstown fairgrounds and organizes Expo Ormstown, were invited to vote on the future of the dining hall that stands near the front gates of the fairgrounds. Some 35 members were present with other members unable to attend voting by proxy and when the votes were tallied, there were 220 votes in favour of proceeding with replacing the dining hall with a new building, and 19 against.

The project was officially announced in the spring of 2022, though the LBA board has been exploring and discussing options since October of 2019. The board was made aware of a potential grant from the Caisse Desjardins that could cover a substantial part of the costs of a new building, though it could not be used to repair the existing structures. They began to explore the construction of a four-season building that would incorporate a meeting room and reception space and a commercial kitchen which could be rented out when not being used during LBA events. The new building would also allow the relocation of the fair office from its current home in the Industrial Building.

There have been several discussions of the project with the members, and while the majority agreed the new building would be an asset to the organization and the community, a number of members have voiced their reluctance to see the existing dining hall taken down. At both the special meeting held in August of 2022 and at the LBA AGM held in December, some members suggested constructing the new building next to the Industrial Building and leaving the dining hall intact, but the board explained that there would need to be a significant amount of work done in terms of water and sewer lines to relocate the project, while that infrastructure was already in place in the dining hall area. At this latest meeting, board member Scott McClintock also said that the area closer to the Industrial Building might be earmarked for future initiatives on the fairgrounds.

Board member Stephanie Maynard began the meeting by giving some background and history of the project and expressed the board’s gratitude for the questions and opinions brought forward by the members. She said the board wanted “to make sure we have everyone’s best interest” at the heart of the project. The projected budget for the new building is $1,030,275, with most of the cost being covered by the Fond de Grand Mouvement Desjardins and complemented by various grants and with a margin built into that amount for the inevitable unforeseen circumstances. The LBA has budgeted $130,000 of its own money to contribute to the project if needed, and Maynard assured members that this possible expenditure would not affect the organization’s “rainy day fund” kept as a buffer in case of a bad year. “We had a record year last year,” Maynard said, “and we feel the need to reinvest.” Other sources of funding for the project include the Fonds Grand Mouvement Desjardins, the regional network of Caisse Desjardins, Tourisme Montérégie, and Economic Development Canada, and the board is continuing to apply for other grants. To date, the exploratory work and consultations have cost a total of approximately $200,000. Maynard noted that the fact that multiple organizations and government ministries have been enthusiastic about the project “speaks volumes about the projects we want to do with the dining hall.”

Member Ken Dolphin inquired about the timeline of the project, to which LBA president Mark Anderson replied, “tough question!” Anderson said if the required permits are obtained, and they have no reason to believe they won’t be obtained despite the complications they have seen through the application process, construction could begin later this year and be completed in 2024 – “but don’t quote me,” he joked.

Wendy Denison, also a member, asked what would become of the funds that might be left, and whether they would need to be invested in a specific project. Maynard explained that most of what might be left would be the portion of the funds provided by the LBA, and regarding other projects, this new centre would “spur a revenue source that allows us to work on other buildings.”

Member Cheryl Johnstone expressed her concern that those opposed to the demolition of the dining hall had not been heard. “The dining hall got condemned without representation,” she said; “It’s all been very one-sided.” She went on to suggest that consultations should have been held two years ago to see what the “volunteers that make this fair go” want. Johnstone also said, “if we don’t keep our buildings, do we keep the heritage you say you want to preserve?” In reply, Anderson asked, “Is there an active group [in opposition to the demolition]? Why is there no active group?” Johnstone countered with the mention of the petition to save the dining hall that circulated in 2022 and garnered more than 200 signatures. Anderson ended the exchange by saying the LBA “would like to put up a building that will last 100 years and will be appreciated … [following] exactly the same thought process they had 100 years ago.” Murray McClintock, LBA member and former board member, remarked that he has attended 68 fairs and has been involved with the organization since he was 10 years old, and that this is the first new building he has seen – “it’s wonderful to see something new!”

Carolyn Cameron, LBA member, stated “I do not feel the dining hall is a unique architectural structure that needs to be saved.” Member Chris Rember commended the LBA board on their “outstanding” work at getting people onto the grounds for events throughout the year and went on to ask if the materials and labour for the project would be sourced locally. Anderson confirmed that to date, everything had been local, and Maynard added that great efforts would be made in terms of “repurposing what is still usable” from the existing dining hall.

Peter Finlayson expressed his concern that engineers and architects could be “hired to get the result you wanted,” in terms of the future of the current structure. Maynard later addressed this, saying there was “no personal gain or benefit” for any of the board members to having to demolish the existing building, and that they “truly wanted to know whether it was worth saving or not.” When asked if the board would follow this project through to its completion, she says they “have invested thousands of hours” into the exploration and project, and “Are we still on board? Absolutely.”

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