Des­per­ate plea

Cit­i­zens com­mit­tee wants Bishop Richard Grecco to save Bel­court Cen­tre

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY NIGEL ARMSTRONG

A citizen group is ask­ing Is­lan­ders to add their voice in a fi­nal des­per­ate plea to Ro­man Catholic Bishop Richard Grecco.

The group wants to save the Bel­court Cen­tre in South Rus­tico, the fi­nal el­e­ment in what the Na­tional Trust of Canada calls “an ex­tra­or­di­nary cul­tural land­scape.”

The group held a news con­fer­ence at the Farm­ers Bank Wed­nes­day to up­date Is­lan­ders on what is hap­pen­ing at the site.

“Any­one that has an in­ter­est could write a let­ter, en­cour­age the bishop or other mem­bers of the (Bel­court) com­mit­tee to say maybe we should pause for a mo­ment, slow down, and see what can be done,” said com­mit­tee mem­ber Arnold Smith..

“We would like the dio­cese to halt the pro­ject for two or three months, al­low us, as a com­mu­nity, to work with them to re­ally ex­plore the idea of re­fur­bish­ing and ren­o­vat­ing Bel­court Cen­tre where it sits now and con­tinue its use as a spir­i­tu­ally cen­tre on the present site,” said Arthur Buote, chair­man of the cit­i­zens’ com­mit­tee to save the Bel­court Cen­tre.

The cen­tre was for­merly a con­vent but is now and con­tin­ues be an ac­tive cen­tre that in­cludes ac­com­mo­da­tions for overnight re­treats and meet­ings with a spir­i­tual fo­cus.

Sur­round­ing Bel­court Cen­tre is St. Augustine church built in 1838, the Farm­ers Bank of Rus­tico which is a Na­tional His­toric Site, the Doucet House of 1772 and other build­ings.

“There is a lot of pride from the Aca­dian com­mu­nity in what has been done here be­cause it is one of the only in­tact his­toric dis­tricts that rep­re­sent Aca­dian (built) her­itage,” said Judy Mac­Don­ald, another mem­ber of the com­mit­tee.

“It’s a beau­ti­ful col­lec­tion of her­itage build­ings and one that you would want to pre­serve.”

She also likes that the Bel­court Cen­tre is ac­tive ev­ery week with groups com­ing to use it.

“It is so won­der­ful to bring peo­ple into this com­mu­nity,” she said.

The church wants to use a large be­quest from the es­tate of the late Owen Kelly to cre­ate a larger, mod­ern spir­i­tu­al­ity cen­tre, says the group.

The lo­cal com­mu­nity has laboured, been driven and per­se­vered to ac­quire, re­store and re­cover the other build­ings in the area.

As such, it has gained ex­per­tise in as­sess­ing restora­tion needs, costs, and pos­si­bil­i­ties, “out­side the box,” said Smith.

None of those com­mu­nity mem­bers were asked to bring this ex­per­tise to the ta­ble when it came to de­ci­sions about the Bel­court Cen­tre, says the com­mit­tee.

It is wor­ried that de­ci­sions about the cen­tre have been made us­ing poor in­for­ma­tion.

The de­ci­sion from the Ro­man Catholic dio­ce­ses is that Bel­court Cen­tre can­not be used for a new or ex­panded spir­i­tu­al­ity cen­tre, is there­fore about to be­come re­dun­dant and is there­fore not worth restor­ing.

The com­mit­tee un­der­stands that op­tions have ranged from knock­ing it down or selling.

“We are not say­ing re­store what ever the cost,” said Smith. “All we want to do is try.”

NIGEL ARMSTRONG/THE GUARDIAN

Arthur Buote, left, chair­man of the ad hoc cit­i­zens’ com­mit­tee to save Bel­court Cen­tre in South Rus­tico works out a de­tail prior to a news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day with master of cer­e­monies Ed­mond Richard.

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