One has to give the Friends of Freeman an A for great effort. Councillor Meed Ward gets an A as well for pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  April 17, 2012  They think they have a home –even if it’s an interim one – but a Council Committee wanted to look the gift horse in the mouth and at the request of the chair of the Friends of the Freeman Station (FOF) the committee went into a closed session – and stayed there for more than an hour.

When it was over James Smith chair of FOF looked particularly drawn and all Councillor Lancaster was prepared to report when the committee came out of closed session was that the committee would “pursue they information we were given”.

It might be on the move again - this time to an interim home where it can be renovated and set down on a permanent base somewhere on the Beachway.

There was one kind of surprising bit of news and also a look at the way the city managed the funds they are entrusted with.

No one seems to know just how much there is in the way of money available to the Save the Freeman project.

There were funds that were saved by an early Save Freeman committee – and the thinking was that the amount was in the $20,000 range.

Then there was an additional $24,000, give or take a couple of thousand, that the city had budgeted for either the moving or demolition of the station.

The Friends of the Freeman Station have pulled in $30,000 – so we have a potential $74,000 available.

Then Marianne Meed Ward pulled a rabbit out of a hat and quietly mentioned that there was about $25,000 in Section 37 money from the Strada development on Maple Avenue that hasn’t been put to any good use yet.  Meed Ward said her understanding was that the Strada Section 37 money could be applied to the project providing it was within the “downtown” – but given the way the city let the hospital stretch the definition of downtown – a way could surely be found to get the Strada money into the Freeman Station bank account.

If that could be done the Friends of Freeman would have $100,000 in hand.  James Smith said they felt they needed $350,000 to complete as total renovation of the structure.  So the financial side looks promising.

Smith added that the committee had eased up on their fund raising activities and were focused on working through the interim home opportunity.  Now that the FOF have charity status and can hand out tax receipts for anything over $20, they have every reason to believe they will be able to raise the $250,000  needed to complete the renovation.

But then they need to find a permanent home – and given the way city council has handled this file in the past there is no guarantee they will step up to the table and do the right thing and work with the FOF to find a location on the Beachway, where the station belongs and then work with the FOF people to overcome whatever opposition Conservation Halton comes up with.

The Pump House is on the Beachway now and no one would ever even suggest it be removed.  That building has a full basement that is dry.  And there is water service to the building as well as sewage service.  The Waterfront Access Advisory Committee has asked the city to put out a Request for Expressions of Interest on getting some kind of commercial operation into that building.  The Freeman Station would fit into that area very well.

And that’s where the challenge the FOF people face comes into play.  The structure is sitting beside the Fire Station on Plains Road and it can’t stay there much longer.  The fire department needs the space for other equipment while they do the renovations that have been approved to the building.

Currently parked beside the fire station on Plains Road, the Freeman Station has to be moved. Private property owner has come forward with an offer. Will it be too good to be true?

Friends of the Freeman Station either found or were approached by a property owner who was prepared to rent them space they could use to store and renovate the building.  No one was prepared to say exactly who the private property owner was in public.  Apparently the property owner didn’t want to make the offer publicly and then get turned down. If renovation work is going to be done in the cold weather that would suggest a place that is big enough to hold the building.  Our source at city hall suggested all we had to do was Google a bit and we would be able to figure out where the rather dilapidated structure was going to go.  Try that – see what you come up with.

The deal, if there was to be one, would have the Friends of Freeman Station, the private property owner and the city enter into a lease agreement. Did I just hear the tap, tap of Nancy Shea Nicol’s high heels come into the room?  Nicol is the city solicitor and any lease agreement will have to go through her hands – not always the easiest things to get through.

There were clearly all kinds of questions put to Smith – and while he will tell his Board, he isn’t going to say anything publicly because he doesn’t want to damage  the opportunity for getting a place where work can be done on the structure.

Councillor Sharman asked the critical question before the meeting went into closed session. “How long will the new host be a good host.”   And because the public doesn’t know what was said behind those closed doors and the private property owner doesn’t want to go public until he knows his offer is going to be accepted – the public is shut out.

And so that is where things stand.  As Councillor Lancaster put it : “we will pursue the information we have been given”.  Exactly how much money there is in capital accounts and trust accounts will get cleared up at  the city Council meeting on April 30th.


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