FACS office moving to old Fort High

Family and Children Services here is planning to relocate from its current address at 450 Scott St. to a renovated space in the westernmost portion of the old Fort Frances High School in the new year.
“Our board has accepted a recommendation from our building committee,” FACS executive director Vic Nowak said last week, adding he’s hopeful a formal agreement will be drawn up and signed very soon.
As first reported in Friday’s Daily Bulletin, Nowak couldn’t say exactly when FACS expects to open its doors at the new location on First Street East.
“That’s still part of the discussions at this time, but it’ll definitely be in the next year,” he remarked.
FACS has been at its current location for more than 20 years, and Nowak noted the decision not to sign another lease for that building was by no means a quick one.
“The building committee was struck about a year ago. The purpose of it was to examine all the alternatives and see what would be the best thing for us to do,” he said, noting the nine-member committee consisted of FACS board members, staff, and management.
“We worked very hard over the last year. We consulted architects, engineers, and lawyers,” Nowak remarked. “Different parties expressed interest in our situation, and so we asked them for proposals.
“Sometime in November, these were brought before the committee.”
Wanting to use a “rational, fair, and objective” means of deciding what to do, the committee utilized a list of 20 criteria, such as lease rates, space efficiency, location, and accessibility.
“The committee then weighted them according to their degree of importance,” Nowak noted, adding the “scored” proposals were fed into a computer, which then “spit out” a final score.
“The whole process revealed a clear consensus. All committee members felt the same way—we should go to this location [the old high school],” said Nowak.
That recommendation then was presented to the board, which made revisions to it. Now, it’s more about dotting i’s and crossing t’s than anything else.
At this point, Nowak could not say exactly how much moving to old Fort High, as compared to another location or staying at its current location on Scott Street, would end up costing FACS due to the myriad of variables involved (property taxes, cost of utilities, etc.).
But he did stress cost was considered. “And it was determined it [old Fort High] was the best value for our money,” Nowak said.
One person who has a problem with the move is James E. Armstrong, who owns the building FACS currently rents on Scott Street. He said it would be much cheaper for the agency to stay in its current spot and that it did not go with the least expensive bid—his.
Armstrong argued a 20-year lease, which FACS was looking for, would cost the agency $700,000-800,000 less than what it would pay to relocate to old Fort High.
Plus, Armstrong said he was willing to expand the building by 16,787 sq. ft. for the cost of what it would take to expand it by 15,500 sq. ft.
And at the end of the 20-year lease, Armstrong said he was willing to sell it to FACS for $1, after which time they would own the building and only be responsible for its upkeep.
He estimated the building and property are worth about $1.3 million.
If FACS were to stay with him, reasoned Armstrong, it would be saving taxpayers up to $2 million in the long run.
Armstrong noted the reason he was told FACS didn’t want to stay in the Scott Street building was its location. “But they’ve been there 20 years!” he remarked.
For his part, Nowak said he was looking forward to the new digs.
“We’re kind of excited,” he admitted. “Not only will it meet our needs, but I think the community will be excited with the development.
“It’s an important landmark in our community. It’s going to be nice to see it made accessible to the public again,” added Nowak, hinting other parties may become neighbours to FACS in the old high school sometime down the road.
(Fort Frances Times)