Freeman Station should see itself sitting more safely and securely 95 metres from where it has been since 2005. Home forever – soon.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON October 8, 2012   The Friends of freeman Station have a three year lease at the princely sum of $1 a year with an option to renew the least for an additional three years.  The property they have leased is just to the east of the Fire Station on Plans Road on a piece of land three quarters of an acre in size.

The Freeman Station, said James Smith, President of the public group that has banded together to save the structure, will sit on a foundation and be clearly visible to people driving by on Plains Road.

We all know what we want it to look like; we all know where we want it to go. The Friends of Freeman Station have found a location to refurbish the structure on and they’ve raised the money to move the building. Council now needs to approve the Joint venture with the city.

Getting to the point where they can move the structure from where it has been since 2005 onto a piece of property and begin the process of refurbishing the building and getting it back to pristine condition, has taken a long, long time during which our city council certainly didn’t surpass themselves.  With federal stimulus money in their pockets the city couldn’t find a place to put the structure and got to the point where they ran advertisements asking if there was anyone who wanted the building.

It was only when Councillor Marianne Meed Ward stepped forward and put together a community based committee that looked for a way to save the station.  Councillor Blair Lancaster joined Meed Ward and that kept the building away from the wrecking crew.  Councillor Sharman was quite solicitous during that stage of the stations life urging people who delegated to accept the fact that the station just might have to go.

Councillor Meed Ward was the person who took the steps to keep the Freeman Station alive while a citizens group was formed to raise the funds and refurbish the building. The city itself failed miserably to ensure the building was saved even with federal Stimulus Funds in their pockets.

Meed Ward managed to get some Section 37 money from a Molinaro Group project assigned to the fund that was being created.  There was still some money in a city reserve fund available – if the community could do some fund raising of their own. The Friends need between $80,000 and $130,000 to secure the building, build a foundation and move the structure.  They have $75,000 in hand and Heritage Burlington has pledged $10,000 and will also match donations up to $5,000.  This is a done deal!

The Friends succeeded at with two objectives.  They found a place to put the station and the managed to raise a reasonable amount of money.  They were able to convince Ashland Canada to rent them a piece of property which was beside the location the building was parked in.  With those two feathers in their cap they could now go to the city and get approval to enter into the rental agreement and obtain permission to move the station.

The Friends of the Freeman station are now in the final stages of entering into a joint Venture Agreement that will have the Friends renovating the station with funds they raise.  The city will still own the structure.

The city came perilously close to seeing the historic structure becoming firewood for anyone who would cover the cost of hauling it away.

People in the Project Management offices of the Corporate Strategic Initiatives department of the city, who should have known better,  led a council committee astray by making it sound as if the building needed a little more than a strong wind for it to fall apart.  My parents called some of the statements made “fibs”.  Council listened at the time but didn’t buy all they heard and went along with the citizen effort to save the building.  Not whole heartedly mind you.  Remember that come election time when they tell you how much they did to save the station.  Councillor Meed Ward, along with Councillor Lancaster are the people who stopped the destruction of the building; they gave people like James Smith and his Board the time needed to find a home and raise funds for the renovation.

So the place has a home and it should be moved the 95 metres in the very near future.

The next step is signing a Joint Venture with the city – and that seems to have a few wrinkles in the document but the Friends of Freeman are certain they are on the right path.

There was a move to locate the Freeman Station on a site in Spencer Smith Park at a spot close to where the old railway line ran into Maple Street and curved north close to the Burlington Art Centre but that failed when the then Council members for Wards 1 and 2 chose not to annoy the tenants in nearby apartment buildings.

What’s delaying Freeman Station’s move?  The city needed to know if the structure was going to sit on a foundation or just on concrete pads?  The Friends Board met last week and decided that they would put a foundation beneath the station and then arrange to have it moved from beside the fire station to their new home some 95 metres away.

The matter goes to a council meeting later this month after which the Friends have to prepare  a site plan drawing, get a Geo-technical assessment for the design of the foundation completed, stick handle the required approvals through city hall then construct the foundation and the relocation of the station.

Smith will want to know if he can head to the Building permit counter at city hall once Council approves the Joint Venture, pay the fees and walk out the door with permit in one hand and a shovel in the other. Not so fast James Smith.

The Friends of Freeman Station have passed a critical milestone.  They have a site, the building will be in their hands very soon and they expect to be able to build a foundation within the next couple of months.  Their hope is to be able to have the structure on its new foundation by the end of the year.  That could get stretched into Spring.

During that time the Friends want to bring back the many people that had given up on the station ever being saved and to mount a stronger fund raising campaign. “We really couldn’t be serious about raising funds until we knew we were actually going to get possession of the station” said Smith “and that we had a place to put it and then authority to refurbish the building.”

The station has sat on some pretty shaky wooden blocks since 2005. It will soon be moved and have a safe solid foundation.

No one has come up with what the building will be used for once it is completely renovated. Smith wants to do two things with the public in the next few months the first of which is to invite anyone interested to a public meeting to talk about the long term plans for the building. “Now that we have possession of the structure we know we can fix it and make it usable” explained Smith, “but what use do we put it to?  A railway museum is one possibility for as Smith explains a large part of Burlington was developed because we had that train station”.

It is going to take as much as five years to completely renovate the building so there is no rush to decide what it will be used for.  Smith and his Board want the broadest possible public participation; they want to hear every whacky idea there is out there.

Once there is public input the Friends Board will develop a strategic plan and build their fund raising targets around the plan.

Does the Freeman Station have to stay at the Plans Road site forever?  The Friends have a three year lease with an option for a second three years – so after six years they may have to look for a new home.  The foundation that is going to be put in, with donated at cost foundation blocks made of a Styrofoam product, will be done in such a way that the building can be easily lifted off its foundation and moved.

There are many within the Friends community who truly believe the structure belongs on the Beachway, alongside the old railway embankment where CN rail trains used to run.

The Pump House was once a residence after it was no longer used to pump water for the city. Trains ran along the rail line at the edge of the picture. The city is now looking for a commercial operator to put the structure to a new use. A coffee shop/wine bar is a favorite choice for many – the city wants to keep their minds wide open on this one. Got any ideas?

The decision on the part of the city to look for a private partner to run some kind of establishment out of the Pump House – with a coffee shop/wine bar being the most popular choices, suggests there is an opportunity to develop a small cluster of destination points in the Beachway which the city is in the process of taking a long second look at to think through how that part of the city can be developed.

No one is thinking of high rise condos on the Beachway,  but many feel there is an opportunity to improve on the 28 building down there now.  The Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital is in the process of building the Halton McMaster Family Medicine Clinic that will eventually get attached to the expansion the hospital plans to start building in 2014.

That hospital, which will be re-oriented to face the lake, is a very short five minute walk from where the Pump House is located.  Add a renovated showcase level Freeman Station and the Beachway begins to take on a whole new look.

We can expect something back from the Regional government by the end of the year or early next year on what their thoughts are for the Beachway, which is property owned by the Region and leased to the city.

You can also expect to eventually see the Freeman Station sitting alongside that old railway embankment.

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