Town will begin seeking funds to restore Sunny Cove

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

The town of Fort Frances will be looking for government funding to help keep Sunny Cove Camp viable for town use and beyond in the future.

At last night’s meeting of town council, it was decided that the town would make an application to the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation to assist in funding the necessary repairs and replacements to the Sunny Cove Camp property, unused since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and now in dire need of repairs.

While the property had previously been put up for sale or for alternative ownership, at a council meeting earlier this month, council decided that the town should not begin the process of divesting itself from the asset, despite the fact it has not budgeted any significant repair costs into its annual capital and operating budgets.

Interim town CAO Travis Rob returned to the council chambers last night with a report recommending the town search out a source of funding from the NOHFC, as well as to begin the process of looking for someone to undertake design work on repairs and replacements necessary for Russell Hall, a major component of operations at Sunny Cove and currently in significant danger of degrading beyond repair.

“As we had discussed, we have no money in the capital budget to take care of the capital issues there, and we have no money in the operating budget to take care of the property for the year,” Rob said.

The report from Rob further recommended that the town approve unbudgeted capital expenditure to help complete the renovations in time for the property to be in use in 2024, as well as to meet with the Kiwanis Club, the previous owners of the camp property, to discuss if some restrictive requirements made by the club to the town when ownership was transferred in 2009 could be removed in order to expand the list of possible uses for Sunny Cove.

While council was soundly behind the decision to apply to the NOHFC for funding, some worry was expressed about the report asking council to sign a “blank cheque” for the costs that the town might not be able to afford. While Rob stressed that approval of the report would not financially tie the town to any outcome in the event submissions from the RFP came back significantly higher than anticipated, a friendly amendment was added to the motion to agree to use unbudgeted capital funds in principle, allowing the process to continue but providing some room to pivot should the town be unsuccessful in its application, or if the amount granted is not in line with what might be necessary to save Russell Hall. When asked if it might be possible to use NOHFC funding to tear down Russell Hall in favour of a new building, Rob cautioned that course of action would not necessarily be cheaper than the possible repairs that will need to be done.

Councillor Steven Maki also expressed his concern that Russell Hall might be beyond saving in a cost-efficient manner, if not currently then in the future, noting that log buildings continue to need regular significant upkeep and preventative measures as they age, and said he feels that the town should have a long-term plan made to deal with the assets at the camp property well into the future.

“I think doing a renovation on a 50-year-old log building is like putting lipstick on a pig,” Maki said.

“Ten years down the road it’s still a building with a facelift. I’m thinking 50 years down the road, what are we going to have there but a 100-year-old building with lipstick on? My thought is moreso having a vision of how do we do something with the entire property so that it’s going to be there for 50 years without having this council, the next council, looking at half a million dollars here ,a million dollars there for another facelift… and to create a vision where we’re utilizing it is a must for us. We need a long-term plan that doesn’t entail facelifts on 50-year-old structures.”

Once the town hears back from the NOHFC regarding funding for Sunny Cove Camp, the next step in the process will be to draft an RFP for design work and renovations for Russell Hall, something Rob said could hopefully be done in a timely enough manner that the repairs or reconstruction itself could be finished by mid-summer 2024, allowing some time for use of the property before the winter.

“The timeline on it is really related to trying to get the contract awarded, shovel ready for about this time next year so that we can get a contractor in there, get the work done to Russell Hall over the months of May, June, and be in a position possibly into July, for sure into August, having Russell Hall ready to utilize,” Rob said.