There is going to be a deal – the city will take possession of donated property and the Freeman Station will finally have a home.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  May 1, 2012  There is a deal – we think.  We are certain that they didn’t just turn down the idea of having a citizen donate property to the city on which to locate the old Freeman Station that is sitting almost derelict outside the Fire Station on Plains Road.

City staff asked that any announcement on the property donation be put on hold for a week while – wait for it – THE LAWYERS, go through the paper work.  Once that is done – the city will, at a future Community Services Committee meeting, release all the details and then it will go to Council where it will get the seal of approval.  This is just the bureaucratic process stuff – unless the city finds there are problems with the property, and there is no reason whatsoever to think there are any problems, staff will say – go for it, make it happen – and then we should see the Friends of Freeman Station be at the point where they are able to take that next major step and make things happen.

When the refurbishment has been completed and the last brush stroke of paint has been applied - THIS is what the Freeman Station just may look like.

It has been a long haul and there is a lot of hard work ahead of this team of people – but they did it.

The station was destined for the scrap heap.  Council didn’t want anything to do with the thing, even though they had federal Stimulus money to move and refurbish the building.  The city just was not able to find a home for the structure.  It wasn’t until Councillors Meed Ward and Lancaster offered to facilitate the community effort to save the station that we saw anything happen.

Councillor Meed Ward confers with member of the Friends of Freeman Station after a Council meeting that deferred a decision on where the station would be located.

Meed Ward was instrumental in getting charitable status for the group which meant that raising funds was going to get a lot easier.  Meed Ward also showed her stripes when she made a move to get major dibs on a chunk of Section 37 money.  It remains to be seen if her fellow Council members will go along with her and if the people in the Planning Department are prepared to go along with her interpretation on how that $25,000 should be used.

The community is going to have to get behind this one – and a public gallery filled with people wearing Save The Freeman Station T-shirts at the Committee meeting that hears the details, will have an impact.  While the public is not supposed to demonstrate or applaud or boo during a council or committee meeting – perhaps everyone wearing a T shirt could just stand up for 30 seconds.  The point would be made and this Council, like any other, is sensitive to public input – if they like the idea.

Who are the people behind this community effort?  Councillors Meed Ward and Lancaster are the visible faces and the current chair James Snow is the man you see at the podium pleading the case – but  there are dozens of people behind the scenes creating the strategies and coming up with the ideas that have gotten them to where they are.

Les Armstrong is the Past Chair.  James Smith is the current chair and is supported by Brian Aasgaard, George Curran, Ron Danielsen, Jacquie Gardner, Alan Harrington, Jane Irwin, John Mellow and Sarah Thompson who serve as Directors.

Secretary Pam Wilkinson (nee Freeman) whose work & family connection to the station have been invaluable to this group and Shelia Gnash’s  work in fund raising has, in the words of Chairman Smith been “ phenomenal”.

Michael DeJong has put his expertise to use in developing a renovation budget.

James Smith explains that “our task, given to us by council, was to find a location for the station. Now that we are set to accomplish this goal our organization needs to change its focus somewhat. We need to first focus on the nuts and bolts of moving and restoring the station and raising the money and awareness necessary to accomplish this goal.

Fashion statement for hip Burlingtonians. $25 each. The Mayor is getting one.

If you’re one of those people that likes rolling  up your sleeves and build something rather than just talking about it and you have some skills at building and fixing – keep an eye out for this one.  Once the Friends of Freeman have their act together and have moved into the “building mode” this is a group you might want to work with.

The first step is to buy a T-shirt and wear it often – let the wider community know that something significant has taken place in Burlington.

Most people in the city are OK with the idea of seeing the station refurbished and put to a good use – but they don’t want any public money used to make this happen.  That is a very simplistic look at the way things get done.  The Freeman Station isn’t a club house for a group of people; it will be a public structure and will be there for years to come to serve the community.  It will certainly be a place where the history of the city, the railway that used to serve the city and the various industries that depended on that rail line, can be told.

Burlington was once the biggest fresh fruit producer in the province but you won’t find a word of that history anywhere on the streets of this town.  The Freeman Station is an opportunity to rectify that glaring gap in the way we tell our story.  But it is going to cost.  The citizens have shown how it can be done.  They will raise most of the $350,000 it is estimated to refurbish the building – which the city owns and will continue to own and when the building is painted and looks close to brand spanking new the city will have pictures of the thing all over its literature.

They should be prepared to pay at least a part of the cost of getting to that point – $75,000 over two to three years sounds just about right.

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