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Future of historic Bracebridge building discussed by council

Multiple ideas, including a museum, have been floated for 94 Manitoba St. once the Bracebridge Library moves out. 

The library will move to the Coulson Family Bracebridge Library facility inside the Muskoka Lumber Community Centre when it opens this summer.

With it set to leave, council discussed what to do with the nearly 120-year-old building. 

Jennifer Clancy, manager of economic development, said in a March 5 report to General Committee, that the Carnegie Library was designated as a historical building in Oct. 1982. She wrote one of the reasons for the designation was because it was built using Muskoka stone and has a neo-classical design with Romanesque accents and a Greek revival-ionic interior. 

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Some of the ideas floated in her report include a museum, a satellite office for municipal services, or rental office space. 

“Some preliminary inquiries have been received from community organizations and private businesses expressing interest in the building for their own use,” added Clancy. 

Coun. Don Smith asked if there would be community consultation before a decision was made. 

Clancy pointed out that “quite an extensive community engagement process” was done in 2020 when Brook McIlroy helped the town build its Downtown Master Plan. With the MLCC scheduled to open in only a few months, she said staff don’t want to go through that process again. 

Cheryl Kelley, director of planning and development, explained an internal consultation will investigate whether the building can support municipal needs, including getting the structure appraised. That process will be bundled with the external consultation done in 2020 and will be part of a future staff report detailing the next steps.  

“We want to be prepared to bring a staff report forward sooner rather than later,” she said. 

Coun. Debbie Vernon, whose day job sees her work as a realtor in Bracebridge, noted her concern about the town looking to get the building appraised, suggesting that’s usually done when someone is looking to sell an asset, not keep it. 

Kelley responded they want council to have all the details before a decision is made.

“We’re in the process of determining what the use of this building will be and if it is going to be a municipal use I think it behooves staff to tell council what we may or may not be saving by moving staff into a certain location or moving an associated organization in,” she said. 

According to Clancy’s report, the building is currently assessed at $518,000. If staff move forward with a new assessment, she outlines it would cost around $7,500 to check the building’s condition and appraise it. Clancy said it may cost more if parts of the structure need to be modified. 

Mayor Rick Maloney agreed this way forward makes the most sense.

“I don’t think staff nor this council have any intent in divesting itself out of a key piece of real estate on Manitoba Street that has been the fabric of this community forever,” he said. 

The report was just to outline the process staff will go through to figure out what will happen with the building. A decision wasn’t made at the meeting on who will occupy it once the library moves out. 

Council will discuss the report again during its March 13 meeting before staff can move forward. 

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