The city is planning to take over operation of St. Andrews on the Square, the oldest civic building in Kamloops, but the decision is not supported by the non-profit society that has managed the downtown heritage building for nearly a quarter-century.
And, amid the outcry, a city councillor is calling for a review of the decision to determine what the move will cost taxpayers.
Since 1995, the Kamloops Heritage Society has managed the city-owned building at Seymour Street and Second Avenue. The society has also restored the facility, which was built in 1887.
Society president Peggy Broad said a letter from the mayor served notice to the society, with reasons including the society’s inability to keep up repairs and a desire to move the facility to an electronic booking system.
The society was also told by the city that the building is under-utilized, a claim disputed by Broad, who told KTW an event is held in the space almost daily, from funerals to weddings to meetings to yoga to indoor markets.
According to the society, the city’s plan will result in removal of the building’s longtime caretaker, Mel Formanski. Without a caretaker, Broad said, seniors booking funerals will be forced to do so online and couples planning weddings will not have someone to help with their matrimonial plans.
Furthermore, Broad credited Formanski for saving and restoring the old church and touted her wealth of historical knowledge about the building as something that would also be lost.
“It will impact the building and the community quite substantially,” Broad said.
A post on the society’s Facebook page further highlights the society’s lack of support for the decision and calls for the public to reach out to city councillors on the matter.
“We feel that this building deserves continued stewardship by the society,” the Facebook post states. “We are a self-sustaining, not-for-profit operating a positive cash flow. This means there are no staffing or running costs incurred by the city. The city will no longer have an on-site representative to set up weddings/events, answer questions about bookings and the building or maintain a daily presence in the neighbourhood.”
Coun. Denis Walsh chairs the finance committee. He said the committee was tasked in the summer with reviewing behind closed doors the city’s service agreements and decided at that time not to renew its contract with Kamloops Heritage Society, following recommendation from staff.
He said that since the decision was made, more information has come to light and he is now calling for a review and business case to better understand what the decision will cost taxpayers. Broad told KTW the society raised money to invest into the church restoration and operates on a shoestring budget just to break even, in order to keep the venue affordable to the public.
“I’m hoping to have a conversation with fellow council members and the mayor when they’re back from Uji, Japan, and see if anybody else has the same concerns,” Walsh told KTW.
A city delegation is currently overseas, visiting Kamloops’ sister city.
Coun. Arjun Singh stayed behind and, although he initially supported the decision to have the city assume control of operations at St. Andrews on the Square, he said he would support a second look.
Broad said the society plans to meet with city staff on Friday, Oct. 11. She hopes the decision will change prior to the city’s scheduled takeover in six months’ time. If the decision is final, however, Broad said the society would not likely collapse, but would pull out the pews and other church contents it owns and work with other groups in town.