Behind the scenes in the battle for St. Andrews

Documents released via a freedom of information request chart the heated debate in the second half of 2019 over control of the city’s oldest public building

More details have emerged over the battle for control of the heritage St. Andrews church building, downtown at Seymour Street and Second Avenue.

Documents obtained by KTW through an FOI request reveal an even more heated battle for operating control behind the scenes.

article continues below

As the City of Kamloops sought to protect a heritage building it owns amid opposition from the Kamloops Heritage Society, an intense letter-writing campaign was sparked.

The documents provide a clear timeline and additional context and clarify he-said-she-said statements previously heard in the public squabble.

AUG. 21, 2019 — SERVICE AGREEMENT TO END:

As the city reviews service agreements with user groups, it decides against renewing two: Kamloops and District Crime Stoppers and Kamloops Heritage Society, a volunteer group instrumental in restoring St. Andrew’s on the Square, the oldest civic facility. The group has operated the facility since the 1990s under a lease with the city. An Aug. 21 letter notifies the society of its lease cancellation and proposed consulting agreement, a 22-month transition during which the society would provide on-site liaison through Dec. 31, 2022, in addition to receiving three hours per month during that time at no cost to meet. The city states the operational model is no longer sustainable. “The financial burden associated with operating, maintaining and repairing the facility is simply too great for a non-profit organization,” the letter states.

SEPT. 5, 2019 — OPPOSITION TO THE DECISION:

The society pens a response to the letter, requesting a meeting to clarify some points. “Understandably, the pending changes create both concern and sadness, along with cautious optimism as we move through a transition phase,” it states. The letter is signed by Kamloops Heritage Society president Peggy Broad and Lee Morris, the society’s city liaison. A meeting with councillors Denis Walsh, Mike O’Reilly and Bill Sarai (on the finance committee tasked with the service review), finance director Kathy Humphrey, culture manager Barb Berger and another staffer is set for Sept. 19.

SEPT. 23, 2019 — QUESTIONS OVER BUILDING USAGE:

After the meeting, discussions occur between KHS president Broad and city staffer Berger about events booked at St. Andrews, raising questions over the facility’s usage. “As I mentioned, this schedule is dynamic and changes on a daily basis,” Broad says. “I went over the booking costs with Mel [Formanski] and, as I also mentioned at the meeting, costs vary considerably from customer to customer, depending on what they require, how much time they need, how much set-up and take down is involved and how large the gathering is . . . ” A city staff email thread in October notes the church is “not operating as it once did. In fact, it is used sparingly,” community and protective services director Byron McCorkell says. “Although, when asked to see how much, the [St. Andrews] staff refuse to give any info in a timely way.”

SEPT. 28, 2019 — SOCIETY POSTS OPPOSITION ONLINE:

As things heat up behind the scenes, the Kamloops Heritage Society makes its opposition public, posting to its Facebook page opposition to the city’s decision and calling for community support. “Under their plan, there will be no caretaker, no phone number to call and all bookings will go through the city website,” the post states. “This decision is not supported by the society. We feel that this building deserves continued stewardship by the society. … More importantly, Mel [Formanski] … will no longer be present as the pillar she is. … How can you help? Write city council and the mayor. Let them know that St. Andrews is part of Kamloops and it needs stewardship to keep its glow in the neighbourhood.”

St. Andrews on Square
St. Andrews on the Square in the summer. - KTW file

OCT. 1, 2019 — LETTER-WRITING CAMPAIGN BEGINS:

Kim Nobert of Alternatives Funeral and Cremation Services sends a letter of opposition to the mayor, the first of many in records provided to KTW. (The number of letter writers remains unclear, however, because names in records are blacked out, except for Nobert’s.) Nobert fears reliability of the city’s booking system if the facility is transferred to the city’s control. In an email, Mayor Ken Christian asks culture manager Berger to respond: “It is my understanding it will be managed as before, just by us,” Christian says. Berger does not directly agree with that statement, but suggests in a response that the city is “very committed to ensuring that this well-loved heritage resource remains an accessible, special venue and that we will be working with the Kamloops Heritage Society to review the bookings to better understand any that require unique considerations.” Berger also states a report would go to the finance committee outlining how the city would incorporate the venue into its booking system, including possible impacts on customer service.

OCT. 2 — STAFF MEMBER CALLS TRANSITION ‘INEVITABLE’:

An email from St. Andrews’ staff member Melanie Formanski thanks the city for inviting her to meet with the city and heritage society. “I had been told … that I was not welcome at any of the city meetings because I was only an employee. If, indeed, you would prefer I not come, I am OK with that, too. I know all of this is inevitable and have been trying to prepare the board for it for several years and I will try very hard to make the transition as easy as possible.”

OCT. 3, 2019 — COLUMNIST HAS CONCERNS:

The city receives a call from CFJC columnist and former mayor Mel Rothenburger, “very concerned about the state of heritage groups in Kamloops. Concerned about city taking over St. Andrews, essentially eliminating Kamloops Heritage Society, taking away voice of heritage commission.” Berger tells Christian. “I did my best to explain our genuine interest in a transition that would see this wonderful heritage asset well-maintained and enjoyed by the community.”

OCT. 3 TO OCT. 7 — MORE LETTERS SENT TO COUNCIL:

More letters are written to city council condemning its decision, with concerns including the fate of staff member Formanski — described in one letter as “exceptional” — volunteers and the current ease of booking, compared to the city’s system. “You will never come close to the society in the care for this wonderful building,” one letter writer, whose name is blacked out in the FOI, writes. “You will ruin it.”

OCT. 7, 2019 — COUNCILLOR CALLS FOR A REVIEW:

Coun. Denis Walsh, who chairs the finance committed tasked with reviewing the service agreement, tells KTW he wants to review the decision. He says he wants a business case to better understand costs to the city to take over operations of St. Andrews.

OCT. 7, 2019 — STAFF REFUTES OPINION PIECE:

Senior city staff discuss a column by CFJC’s Mel Rothenburger, in which he criticizes the city’s plans and questions its cost to taxpayers. McCorkell states information was left out and refutes claims over the city’s approach to heritage and impending costs to the city. “The fact is, aside from day-to-day operating expenses (which we can’t get info on), there will be no costs to the city to do the bookings or even management as it will become part of existing staff portfolios,” McCorkell states. “The same way the courthouse did. But that said, the courthouse costs about $60,000 a year for heat, power and cleaning. So, this would not be close to that. Probably more like one of our halls.”

OCT. 7, 2019 — COUNCIL MUZZLED, FRUSTRATED:

Behind the scenes, councillors express frustration over misinformation and the fact they are not at liberty to discuss information from closed council meetings. Some of the information is released by the Heritage Society and some was dug up by media. But council is partly left out of the conversation due to restrictions over what they can and cannot say. Meanwhile, the society continues to rail against council’s closed-door decision and more letters of opposition are written. Some letters threaten support for council in the next election.

OCT. 7, 2019 — ST. ANDREWS STAFF MEMBER BACKTRACKS:

St. Andrews staff member Formanski clarifies to city staff that she does not support the its position, but that she will “do my very best to make any agreement work for both the society and the city. My biggest problem is the booking system and its unreliability and inability to book things on a moment’s notice. . .”

OCT. 8, 2019 — STAFF EXPLAIN ST. ANDREWS DECISION:

In an email thread with council and top city administrators, McCorkell aims to “set the record straight.” First, he says, the board came to the city, saying its members are tired, are not making enough revenue to cover upcoming costs and have little money in the bank. “They were concerned about going forward and wanted the city to look at covering expenses,” McCorkell says. “That then led us to trying to help them by getting a consultant to review their business plans. They eventually rejected that proposal, as the board changed. So nothing changed. But the pending bills and potential staff changes loomed. So that, then, led to a question of how do we, as the city, best protect this building, this heritage asset. Well, since we operate the [Old] Courthouse, the cigar factory and Wilson House, to name just a few of our heritage inventory, it was suggested we bring this building officially into our operation.” McCorkell says the board has changed since initial meetings and the “new president appears to think they can run it, although they have had members drop out since even the last meeting. The staff is now actively championing they stay, although not more than a week ago, they indicated they were content with the pending change. So, we are left with a small group championing that the city has done something wrong.

OCT. 8, 2019 — CITY ISSUES A PUBLIC STATEMENT:

As the issue plays out in the media and in online discussion forums, the city releases a statement on its history with St. Andrews on the Square and the Kamloops Heritage Society. “Five years ago, the Kamloops Heritage Society’s board of directors asked the city to develop a succession plan for the property that would see the city taking over maintenance and operations at the end of five years. The board recognized at that time that its operational model was not sustainable and that the financial burden of operating, maintaining and repairing this heritage property would be too great for the society. … The city’s primary objective in taking over the management of St. Andrews on the Square is to protect a valuable heritage asset.”

OCT. 9 , 2019 — A LETTER OF SUPPORT ARRIVES:

More letters of opposition are sent to council, but one emerges in favour of the city’s decision. Former city councillor and society board member Shirley Culver writes to the city and speaks to media, “concerned that resistance and lobbying from the Kamloops Heritage Society directors to members of city council and particularly by employee Melody Formanski might cause you and council to reconsider.” Culver tells KTW in an interview that the facility was booked fewer than three days per week when she was on the board in 2016 and 2017, noting the society had less than $5,000 in the bank at any given time. She says the building needs a new roof and improved audio, flooring and kitchen facilities. “It’s very easy to criticize city council when they make, what we think, are the wrong decisions,” Culver says. “In this case, the city made the right decision to take over the management, in my opinion.”

OCT. 11, 2019 — LEASE INFORMATION IS CLARIFIED:

An Oct. 11 meeting with the society is scheduled to review bookings, process, site orientation, rental structure, documents and insurance. City staff emerge from the meeting with concerns about communication amongst the society’s board, in light of turnover, and misconceptions that the city has not lived up to its end of the lease. “We have lived up to all of our obligations under the lease,” McCorkell says. At a future city council meeting in November, society member Sheila Park would also state the city was responsible for repairs to the building, a claim that was immediately refuted by Mayor Christian at that day’s council meeting. KTW requests a copy of the lease from both Park and the city. According to the lease provided by the city, the society is responsible for repairs and maintenance — not the city. “The landlord shall not be responsible for any costs, charges, expenses and outlays of any nature whatsoever arising from or related to the premises or the improvements thereto, and the tenant shall pay all charges, impositions, costs and expenses of every nature and kind involving the premises including, without limitation, the operating costs,”the lease states. A covenant is also included, holding the tenant responsible for repairs and maintenance. “The tenant covenants to repair and at all times to keep the premises and adjacent areas free and clear of rubbish and in a neat and tidy condition. The tenant shall allow the landlord to enter the Premises at any reasonable time for the purpose of inspecting the Premises and will repair according to notice,” the lease states.

OCT. 11, 2019 — MORE ON FINANCIAL IMPACT TO CITY:

McCorkell once again stresses that the city “does not anticipate any new costs. The building is currently operating and generating revenue. That revenue would come to the city in the future and would cover our costs for primarily the power and janitorial, as the bookings would simply go into our booking system, of which we have a full team of clerks managing multiple facilities now. Adding one meeting room into that would be no significant impact.” McCorkell also says that in the past two service agreements with the society, in which council provided $10,000 per year, the city expected a five-year capital plan and registrations to be put into the city’s computer system, but that it has not occurred. Still, costs for work to the heritage building have not been assessed or provided and remain unclear.

OCT. 12, 2019 — MORE LETTERS OF OPPOSITION ARE NOTED:

A letter opposing the city’s decision states support for the city taking on larger expenses, such as the roof, furnace and hot water tanks. One letter writer states that what is most “disturbing” about the city’s decision is a “lack of transparency in this matter.”

NOV. 14, 2019 — SOCIETY LAUNCHES A PETITION:

The Kamloops Heritage Society creates an online petition, calling for the city to reconsider its decision. To date, it has been signed by 782 people.

NOV. 26, 2019 — THE CITY STANDS BY ITS DECISION:

The city releases its closed council information and issues a public statement to explain its position. It also reiterates that, upon receiving calls from concerned residents with event bookings — who were informed by the society that their bookings may be cancelled — the city is committed to honouring bookings. The city also expresses concern about heritage items apparently for sale. “The society has posted a sign on the door of St. Andrews Church, advertising building contents for sale,” the statement reads. “The city is aware of several items in the church with cultural and historical significance. In an effort to preserve this history and the beloved atmosphere of the building, the city has expressed interest in purchasing items from the society.” The society has not responded to the city, but it told KTW earlier it would not go so far as to sell stained-glass windows it had installed in the church.

The City of Kamloops is set to assume control of St. Andrews in March.

© Kamloops This Week

 


KTW Daily News Alerts
KAMLOOPS WEATHER

Question of the Week POLL

A third library is planned for Kamloops. For what reason do you use the libraries in the city?

or  view results

Popular Kamloops This Week

Events Calendar