Kamloops Heritage Society not pleased with City take over of St. Andrew's on the Square | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kamloops Heritage Society not pleased with City take over of St. Andrew's on the Square

The historic St. Andrew's on the Square has hosted many weddings and events, but now the city of Kamloops will be overseeing operations, much to the dismay of the Kamloops Heritage Society.
November 26, 2019 - 5:01 PM

In August, the City of Kamloops decided to take over ownership of the downtown heritage building St. Andrew's on the Square, which was an unpleasant surprise for the Kamloops Heritage Society who have managed the building for 21 years.

Now, the minutes from a private council meeting have been released in which the Finance Committee looked at service agreements with nearly 40 organizations and recommended the city terminate the agreement with the Kamloops Heritage Society.

Although the opportunity to change its decision has passed, members of the Kamloops Heritage Society shared their views during city council's meeting today, Nov. 26.

The city reviewed service agreements with the Kamloops Heritage Railway Society, B.C. Wildlife Park, Venture Kamloops, Tourism Kamloops and Visitor Centre, Kamloops Rube Band and the Graffiti Task Force, among others.

The city only decided to take over management and ownership of only the Kamloops Heritage Society’s St. Andrew's on the Square, which will come into effect in May 2020.

Bernice Mitchell, chair of the finance board for the Kamloops Heritage Society, says that as soon as the news came out about the city taking St. Andrew's on the Square over, weddings booked at the venue were cancelled.

“Since you sent that letter at the end of August, we immediately had two weddings cancelled because they are afraid of the PerfectMind system which is notorious for double booking and they didn't want to arrive for their wedding in the spring and find there was no employee there… last I heard now, we've lost six weddings.”

The Kamloops Heritage Society signed a lease in 1998 which then promised nine lease renewals, for five years each, and members of the society are upset that the original lease is not being honoured. Mitchell notes how the city was originally responsible for some of the building maintenance, and wonders why the city has decided to take it over now, after they have taken somewhat of a hands-off approach with the previous maintenance projects.

“There are some things that were the City's responsibility and whenever we’d call them, they'd say, ‘Oh, we don't have time right now, we haven't got the manpower, it's not in the budget, maybe next year.’ There's always an excuse,” Mitchell says.

Mitchell says that working with the City on certain aspects of property management has been an ongoing hassle.

“The City and some of its employees have been very good to work with, others have been very unprofessional right from the very beginning,” Mitchell says. “We’re very disappointed in your actions and attitude and the way you do not listen or react.”

Some of the issues that Mitchell highlighted include disagreements about replacing the kitchen, flooring and roof, among others.

“One thing that was really annoying is the city's sprinkler system in the park, which by the way, we pay for power in the park even though we don’t look after the park, it's on our meter… the sprinkler system was malfunctioning and spraying on the building. Water was coming into the basement. We called the city to come and fix it, nothing happened. We called again, and nothing happened. This went on and on until it became apparent we had to do something else ourselves.”

Mitchell says the society has diligently worked with City representatives to ensure prime operations and upkeep of the heritage building, which has only resulted in frustration for members of the society.

“We've had to jump through hoops, we've had to submit monthly meeting minutes, and our financial records for every month…. You had all kinds of information handed to you and this could've been handled a lot better if you had started sooner and engaged in an open dialogue with us, serious open dialogue, and that has not really happened in our minds,” Mitchell says.

Mitchell mentions how Barbara Berger, the city’s recreation, social development, and culture manager, suggested many unnecessary renovations. According to Mitchell, Berger suggested they put in a new dance floor, redo the roof which was guaranteed to be good for 40 or 50 years, and recommended taking out the kitchen and dining area for a catering kitchen. The Kamloops Heritage Society did not want to comply with all of these requests, which left them without a grant from the City.

“We were told we were not going to get any grant money,” Mitchell says. “We were told there were grants available through the city… and then it was denied to us because we wouldn't go along with somebody's plan of how to use it."

Mitchell says the last grant from the city was for $20,000 at the beginning 2017, which covered a $10,000 grant from 2016 and the remaining from 2017. Mitchell notes how the Kamloops Heritage Society was able to bring in bookings for the organization after economic difficulties in 2009 and notes that bookings are now up to 90 per cent. She doesn’t understand how the City would be any better with handling bookings, as the other ten per cent of the time is best used for maintenance and upkeep.

“I think you've done a remarkable job with looking after that asset on behalf of the citizens of Kamloops for 21 years,” says Kamloops mayor Ken Christian. “It's not the city's intention to change St. Andrew's on the Square and the mechanisms by which it's operated... we're not looking to turn into a nightclub, we're not looking to knock it over, it is an essential part of the heritage inventory of the city... we manage all of those other assets and it's our intention and the intention of council to manage this one. What we're looking at is a transition from the society to the City and we would welcome the opportunity to negotiate with the society about what that's going to look like."

In a release from the city sent shortly after the city council meeting, it noted that the bookings made will be honoured, and that the City will continue to use the historic church for the same kind of events as before. They state that the Kamloops Heritage Society has posted a sign on the door offering to sell some of the historic items within, and although the City put in a request to purchase the items, they have not heard back.

One of the key points discussed at the meeting was the fate of the lone employee hired to help with operations at St. Andrew's on the Square. Mitchell says the employee doesn't want to stay on-call for the city while being paid $20 an hour, but Christian hopes to come to an agreement on that.

“The staff have been reaching out... and have proposed a continuation of the employment of your employee as we do the transition from heritage society management to the City of Kamloops management,” Christian says.

There is an online petition for support of the Kamloops Heritage Society in regards to St. Andrew's on the Square, and you can check it out here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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