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Bridgewater drops heritage status from Kinsmen building

by Keith Corcoran

 BRIDGEWATER - Politicians have opted to drop the municipal heritage status of the Kinsmen building, clearing the way for Harmony Health Centre Co-operative to buy the King Street property.

 Kinsmen Club members in the gallery pumped their fists and cheered when council voted almost unanimously to remove the designation.

 "The community heard loud and clear there are other ways to recognize historical significance in a community," Mayor Carroll Publicover said afterward.

 The financially strained Bridgewater and Area Kinsmen Club, which owns the Riverview community centre, sought the deregistration as part of a deal with the health-care co-operative. The co-operative reached a lease-to-buy arrangement with the club that sees the volunteer service group relinquish ownership of the hall. The Kinsmen struggled for years to maintain the building and considered the deregistration vital to the club's survival.

 Kinsmen can now renew their focus on community needs, meeting their Kin Canada regulations and putting upwards of $150,000 worth of service into this area over the next several years, club president Jason Knickle said.

 Kin Canada regulations dictate 85 per cent of club income, such as that from fundraisers including bingos and auctions, should be distributed to the community.

 "That is not happening," Mr. Knickle said in his presentation to council. "Two thousand four was the last year that we gave more money back to the community than we sank into our building."

 The Riverview community centre was originally built as a one-room schoolhouse at the end of the 19th century. It functioned as a school until 1976 when it became a community hall.

 The town's heritage advisory committee didn't support the deregistration application but its chairman sided with council. Councillor Greg Ritcey felt comfortable there would be some form of heritage and culture recognition with the new ownership and is pleased the building won't be vacant. Mr. Knickle suggested the club would "abandon" the building if deregistration didn't happen.

 Councillor Ritcey said his committee is examining ways to encourage property owners to register their places as municipal heritage properties.

 He admits it was tough to vote the way he did. "Believe me, I thought long and hard and at the next heritage advisory committee meeting that I chair I'll probably get hung up."

 Meanwhile, fellow committee member and Councillor Patrick Hirtle was the only politician not to support the deregistration. He maintains there are "character-defining elements" within the building that are worth preserving. He pointed out that his decision is no reflection on the Kinsmen Club and its work nor the buyers or their proposal.

 Councillor Hirtle expressed frustration and disappointment that it's a lost chance to protect built heritage in the town.

 Mayor Publicover said council's decision was a wise one, separating the Kinsmen's function in the community from the building's value as a heritage property.

 One of the prospective buyers, Barbara Shaw, said the Kinsmen will still be able to use some of the building as a club function area for its fundraising efforts. She also expressed a willingness to allow some form of heritage recognition on the property.

 "There will be great efforts made for people to understand the importance of that site to the town's history," the mayor said.

posted on 07/19/11
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