A recent report has deemed a proposal to convert the Sackville United Church into a community hall would not make good economic sense.
SACKVILLE, N.B. – With a $1.5 million pricetag attached to fix up and renovate Sackville’s United Church, it looks as if the historic building may not be able to be saved from the wrecking ball after all.
Virgil Hammock, who is heading the community committee that has been looking at ways to save the 135-year-old church, said estimates to repair the structure have come in at about $800,000 while the reconfiguration costs to convert the building for other uses total more than $650,000.
“And those are conservative estimates . . . so it’s going to cost a whole lot more money that what people expected to fix it up,” he said.
The figures – which include structural repairs, roof repairs, window and window sill replacement, electrical and plumbing updates, fire safety upgrades, mold remediation, installing a new heating system, painting, and more – were provided by local contractors as part of an economic feasibility study that was done this summer to determine whether operating the United Church as a community centre would be a viable option.
The feasibility study, conducted by community development consultants Gwen Zwicker and Amanda Marlin and funded by Renaissance Sackville, examined the cost of exterior and interior repairs, costs associated with reconfiguring the 10,000-square-foot building to house multiple uses and different organizations, as well as ongoing operational costs.
The study’s authors write that the repairs are doable, “but at a very high cost.”
“If the committee examining the potential to convert the church to a community centre were to go ahead with this project, significant funds would be required from federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well as private donors and foundations,” stated Zwicker and Marlin.
“There is support for saving the church building but there may not be widespread support for spending a lot of money to do so.”
And, of course, the more time that passes, the more the repair bills would go up.
“The time it takes to raise or find the money may be too long, the damage will get worse and the costs will increase again,” they pointed out in their report.
As well, the study also indicated that, if the building were to be successfully renovated, monthly operational and maintenance costs would be in the vicinity of $4,500 – a bill that would be hard to cover with the potential rental income that would be expected to come from the users of a community centre.
Zwicker and Marlin noted that, of the dozen or so groups that said they were interested in possibly renting space within a community centre, many of those were non-profit groups or arts/cultural enterprises that either couldn’t afford much for rent or would only be renting the space on a daily/weekly basis.
Based on the findings in their study, they recommended that “converting the United Church into a community centre does not make good or feasible sense.”
Hammock said unfortunately, he has to agree – unless the town of Sackville, as well as the other two levels of government, is able to come through with a pledge of support to preserve the building.
“Even if we got it fixed, there’s no way to run the building without being subsidized,” he said. “There just isn’t a revenue stream to operate the building without a sizeable subsidy from the different levels of government.”
So unless the town steps in, said Hammock, he conceded that it’s neither feasible nor does it make business sense to go ahead with converting the church.
He said Sackville is certainly in need of a community centre like the one being discussed and isn’t giving up on the idea of such a project; but it doesn’t look like it will happen at the church.
Hammock said the feasibility study was a well-done report, which “really identified that there’s a large cost to refurbish the building and a bigger challenge in maintaining and operating it.”
The report, which is available online on Renaissance Sackville’s webite at www.renaissancesackville.ca, will now be handed over to town council for their review.
A public meeting to discuss the findings of the feasibility study is also set for this Thursday, Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. in town council chambers.