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 permission of the LBA board and all members named herein have granted their explicit permission for the reporter to do so.
For the past three years, board members of the Livestock Breeders’ Association of the District of Beauharnois (LBA) have been discussing plans to update the dining hall facilities at the Ormstown fairgrounds. On August 4, an information session was held for members in order to shed some light on the outcomes of those discussions to date.
About 30 people gathered at the fairgrounds to hear about the project. LBA president Mark Anderson opened by saying “We’re all passionate” about what goes on at the fairgrounds, referring both to the board and to the others gathered in the dining hall, adding that the aim of the evening was to have an “open discussion, a transparent discussion” about the future of the building while “[putting] everyone at ease” after various information had been circulating.
Board member Stephanie Maynard then took the floor, explaining that three years ago, they were encouraged by Desjardins to apply for the Fonds du Grand Mouvement (GoodSpark Fund), an initiative supporting projects that would make a substantial difference to the community. When the board began to brainstorm, Maynard said, it became clear that the central question was, “How can we serve the community while staying true to our mandate?” She clarified that under the guidelines of the fund, the financing could not be used to carry on with the activities currently being held on the site or to maintain or repair the existing buildings; instead, it needed to be devoted to a new project. “A lot of thoughtful process” has gone into the exploration, Maynard said, as the board met nearly every week over the past two years.
From the organization’s point of view, Maynard says that despite the record attendance seen this year, they “cannot just depend on the fair” to support the fairground and its maintenance, especially with other buildings such as the Industrial Building and the arena needing significant repairs in the coming years. The dining hall project would be the first in a multi-phase project, with the updated building generating revenue and activities which would help to fund these other repairs. The board members are reluctant to borrow to fund these big projects, and the financing from Desjardins would cover most of the costs of building a new structure.
The overwhelming concern in the Valley community, which was expressed by a number of those gathered for the meeting, was the plan to demolish the current dining hall and to build an updated structure on its existing footprint. Anderson assured those gathered that the “original plan was not to tear down this building; we did not want to do it.” But members were presented with recent reports from an architect and an engineer that outlined concerns about the building’s structural integrity, particularly of the second floor, whose walls show a substantial slant, and the roof trusses. Earlier this summer, the LBA board presented a request to the municipality of Ormstown to demolish the building, and the municipality’s urban planning advisory committee recommended that the request be accepted, with the final decision being reserved for once the file has been reviewed by the Ministère de Culture et Communications du Québec. The resolution from the municipal committee also noted there is no documentation classifying the dining hall as a heritage building.
The proposed new building would house a commercial kitchen built to the standards of the Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec (MAPAQ). The LBA’s intent is for it to serve as a four-season meeting place where community groups can gather, training sessions can be held (notably locally and in English, as things such as MAPAQ trainings are often held quite far away and only in French), and social gatherings and celebrations can take place. Board member Simon-Pierre Loiselle explained that during the exploration process, members of the LBA surveyed all the community groups they could think of about their needs, and the response was invariably that “They cannot find what they need here in the Valley in 2022.” Loiselle added, “There are so many opportunities we are going to create” through this project.
At several points during the discussion, members of the audience brought up the possibility of renovating the existing building rather than tearing it down. Phil Quinn, who sits on the committee devoted to the dining hall project, said, “It was made quite clear verbally by all contractors [asked] that it would cost more to fix than it would to build new,” and Maynard also reiterated the fact that the funding being considered would not be available for a renovation, meaning the substantial costs would have to come out of the LBA’s coffers. Peter Finlayson, who was one of the members present, said he was in favour of “using what we presently have,” and expressed his concern that the board appeared to be “in the process of tearing down our 100-year-old structure.” He stated that the possibility of renovating the building “needs to be looked at,” and urged the board to look at the project as a “cost versus revenue situation.”
Member Cheryl Johnstone said, “It would be nice if all donors [to the previous renovations on the building] were consulted before now,” as the money they had donated in the past would be “chucked.” She suggested that the Ormstown Legion and other such buildings in the Valley had similar facilities to the proposed building, later saying that she wondered how much of the need expressed by the surveyed community groups “is because of misinformation.”
Another member expressed their feeling that perhaps the report spoke to the fact that the engineer knew the board was in favour of putting up a new building and that caused it to be somewhat biased, adding, “I’m not opposed to building a new building … [but] let’s not jump the gun and tear this one down.” To this, board member Scott McClintock replied that the report brought the opinion of just one engineer, and that there was always a possibility of getting another opinion. Anderson added that with the funding for this potential new building, “We have an opportunity in front of us, [but] we can say ‘no’ to it,” as nothing was settled yet. He added that the board “felt [it] could do something good for [its] members.”
Member Gordon Furey said, “I would think that the next step would be to have an estimate of the repairs and putting in a washroom” in the current building, also noting “It’s going to be an enormous expense to straighten the building up.” He lightened the evening’s mood by joking that there was nothing particularly notable about the architecture of the building itself, “except that it’s old!”
Maynard then addressed the suggestion of constructing a new building elsewhere on the grounds. Tearing down the dining hall “was not our first choice… [but] if we go and build a new building, this one will be last on the list, and it will fall down on its own by the time we get to it,” she said, explaining that being last on the list meant it could be up to 40 years before the LBA was able to devote the resources needed to fix it.
Anderson said that the intent of the meeting was not to ask anyone to make any decisions or to change anyone’s mind, and that “Nothing is written in stone.” Member Bob McEwen said, “Once the numbers start flying around, it will be a lot easier for people to make a decision,” referring to the fact that there is not yet an estimate of the costs of rebuilding versus renovation. Another member asked if there was a timeline for the project, and whether the municipality of Ormstown’s freeze on building permits would pose problems. Quinn noted that with the water and sewage lines already in place, having a dining hall rebuilt on the same footprint would work in the project’s favour.
Anderson finished the meeting by encouraging anyone with questions or concerns to get in touch with an LBA director. He said, “There are quite a few bridges left to cross,” but “Let’s keep this conversation open.”