2017-10-04

Queens Day care, food bank have two years to relocate

by Michael Lee

  • <p>MICHAEL LEE PHOTO</p><p>The former Mount Pleasant School was built in 1957 and currently houses the Queens Day Care, South Shore Family Resource Association, Queens Learning Network and Queens County Food Bank.</p>
  • <p>MICHAEL LEE PHOTO</p><p>From left, Queens County Food Bank volunteers Helen Harrington, Isabel Inness, co-chair Charlotte White and David Barnes.</p>

The Region of Queens Municipality says it will help relocate four organizations currently housed at the former Mount Pleasant School building after staff recently cautioned councillors over rising maintenance costs.

But some of the tenants in the now-declared surplus building don't believe it will be so easy to find new spaces for their operations.

Tarina Risser, co-director of a day care in the building, said finding a new location will be difficult, considering the non-profit has spent five years trying to find a suitable space in Liverpool that follows current licensing regulations.

"For me personally, it's just sad because we've been here many, many years," she said.

"I'm concerned because if we do find alternative space that meets all the requirements, how much are we going to pay for it?"

Council voted unanimously on September 26 to declare the College Street building surplus and have staff work with the tenants to find alternative locations.

The former school was built in 1957. Its tenants - Queens Day Care, South Shore Family Resource Association, Queens Learning Network and Queens County Food Bank - will have until June 30, 2019, to vacate the premises.

"I'm confident that council and staff will work diligently to find them a new location," said Mayor David Dagley.

"To state that, 'Yes, I can guarantee there will be one,' that's an impossibility, but it is very high on our agenda to support these tenants to get them to a good location in Queens."

The directors and chairs from each of the organizations acknowledged the support they've received from the municipality over the years, including with maintenance, and council's willingness to work with them on finding new locations.

As it stands, the day care, family resource centre and learning network each pay $3,900, $2,400 and $2,700 in rent annually, respectively, for a total of $9,000 in total revenue. The food bank does not pay rent.

The community garden Plant to Plate is not a tenant, but has 28 plots located on the property.

The revenue alone is not enough to cover the building's expenses, which include sanitary supplies, insurance, heating, electricity and maintenance. The region pays $19,000 to cover the balance.

But the firm Capital Management Engineering Limited, which the municipality hired to assess the building, believes the cost to maintain the property long-term will rise to $214,820 over the next two years, in large part because of replacement of the septic system.

Municipal staff maintain council would have had to either increase its subsidy to $40,000 per year, requiring a half cent increase to the residential tax rate; raise rent; or declare the building surplus.

"The current facility is not sustainable at existing funding levels," said chief administrative officer Richard MacLellan.

MacLellan said the costs to maintain the facility, let alone upgrade it, do "not appear to make sense," but he was confident the municipality would find other options for its tenants.

"It'll be a good thing in a way because here we are hoping that for things we don't have here we'll have at a new place," said Charlotte White, co-chair of the food bank.

White said she would like to have wheelchair access, seating for clients and more space in general wherever the food bank ends up.

But whether rent will remain at its current level is uncertain and given the food bank pays no rent, White said any added expenses will affect the clients.

Traci Hatt, site coordinator for the family resource centre, said she hopes the region will help subsidize them, otherwise it will be challenging to pay higher rent.

But being a family resource centre, she said, "We're pretty flexible and adaptable on a moment's notice."

Marlene Duckworth, executive director of the Queens Learning Network, an organization which offers adult programming to those who've quit school early, said she wasn't shocked about council's decision, given the issues with the building, including drainage problems which resulted in her office being flooded.

She said it may be a "good move in the long run," but questioned whether they could afford to pay rent at a private location without help.

In a statement, Dagley said the region is unable to commit to subsidies without a full discussion and approval of council.

"The intent of the Region is to work with tenants to resolve issues, such as potential locations, as we move forward. These organizations provide valuable services within the Region of Queens, and we will work with them to the best of our ability."

Staff will find out how much it will cost to simply demolish the building, but Dagley said the region may also sell it.

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