Fire hall lease re­quest not about a new mu­seum

The Welland Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - LAURA BARTON

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 main­floor 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 low­cost 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.


Cen­tral Sta­tion Ed­u­ca­tion Ini­tia­tive, a non-profit group, hopes to turn Wel­land’s for­mer Cen­tral Fire Sta­tion into a multi-use fa­cil­ity with rental spa­ces and a her­itage dis­play ded­i­cated to fire and emer­gency ser­vices.

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