Brick mills project next worthy effort for Council

Often the best projects undertaken by our City are those spearheaded by groups within the community.

A great example is the major renovation to the grandstand agreed to at the most recent regular meeting of Yorkton Council.

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The project was brought to Council by the Yorkton Exhibition Association with a plan that had the group asking for the City to cost-share the work, but with a willingness to contribute as well. As was pointed out at the time during Council deliberations it is difficult for Council to turn down projects where the community has agreed to cost-share the work. (See the full story in the Oct. 7 edition of Yorkton This Week or online at www.yorktonthisweek.com)

It’s not the only case where the City has cost-shared projects, being supportive of community-led work. One can look at work done at Deer Park Golf Course, where the club there made contributions as another example.

Council is going to have another opportunity to partner with a community group soon.

This past week the Yorkton Brick Mill Heritage Society reached a major milestone, unveiling signs detailing the history of the mill so people can now learn more about the history of the region, starting with the First Nations and continuing to today.

Larry Pearen with the Mill Society said it’s exciting to have something tangible they can show the public. Over $330,000 has been raised so far for repairs, and they are almost at the point where people can again enter the building safely, and the signs are another part of the larger plans for the site.

So work on the old brick mill is ongoing, but to fully realize the vision of the Yorkton Brick Mill Heritage Society the City will need to be involved financially.

At the July 29, 2019 Council meeting, the Society requested additional funding from the City for further improvements and expansion plans for a Brick Mill Interpretive Center. The estimated cost of the entire project at the time was $1,300,000 and the request was for the City to commit $300,000 to show support.

The request was referred to 2020 Budget deliberations, but the project was cut from the final budget when it was approved in December 2019.

“During 2020 Budget talks, the project was declined primarily because of concerns regarding long-term sustainability,” said City Manager Lonnie Kaal at the time.

With the signage now up, the Society is going to want to take its next step, and that means it will soon be time for the City to come on board as a funding partner, or to say no and leave the work of the Society in limbo.

This is going to be an interesting decision for Council when it comes to the table again.

One can hear the suggestions of the impact of COVID already as a starting point of debate, but Council must be careful or the City may stagnate with nothing being done in the next few years citing COVID.

If a business sees the constant fear of Council, what message do they receive if thinking of investing here? Is it to put the dollars under the mattress and wait things out?

Then there is the question regarding long-term sustainability of the build the Society envisions.

While reasonable, Council must realize that Deer Park Golf Course rarely covers operational costs and a return to reserves for capital in a year. Nor does the Access Communications Water Park, or the Westland Arena, or the Kinsmen Arena where the inability to generate money to reserves from operations is now an issue when replacement looms.

The fact is municipalities must make investments in areas of recreation, and culture because they don’t often generate sufficient profits to be viable as a business.

That is why municipalities build arenas, curling rinks, swimming pools, libraries, art galleries, and help maintain history.

It is that responsibility Council needs to factor in when they again debate the Mill Society request.

Drive around the city and look for our community’s history; it is all but gone, relegated to the black and white pages of a history book or two. The mill project looks to preserve one of the last sites in the city as a gathering place for the community to be surrounded by its history. That has value beyond the bottom line of a ledger.

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