The Business Case for Saving the Convent

Loretto Convent

A recent commentary in the Mercury is critical of the concept of putting a civic museum in a building the city does not own. The writer compares it to building a swimming pool in your neighbours backyard. Personally, that sounds like a great deal.

The business case for adaptive re-use of the convent for a museum is quite brilliant. To use the swimming pool analogy: if I was planning to build a pool anyway, and my neighbour was not using his backyard, and he offered me full and exclusive use of his yard for three generations of my family, at a token $1 year cost, I would take up the offer in a millisecond. I would keep my own yard open for a garden and greenspace, and in effect, double my useable yard space with my neighbours blessing and support.

The convent is an empty building. The financial and environmental cost to demolish is significant (up to 1/3 of Ontario landfills contain demolition waste). The Diocese has no future planned use for the site and has offered it to the City for use as a civic museum for a nominal cost. They were not strong-armed – they fully understand the beneficial synergies that would come from this partnership. The current museum is bursting at the seams and will be moving forward to secure a new site at some point within the next five years. To buy or lease a new building at market value would be costly. A long-term lease with the Diocese (ie.50-100) years removes this expense.

If Council failed to act to secure the Convent site, the cost to relocate the museum will not disappear, it would just be deferred into the future. Past councils have done this with a number of capital projects which had led to a huge backlog of community needs – main branch library, south end firehall, civic administration centre, etc.

Losing the Convent would mean the City would have to relocate the museum by purchasing or leasing another building at market value. In order to meet the museums future needs, they will need a building twice the size of the current facility, at an estimated cost of $1,000,000. Leasing the convent for an estimated $2 per year means that million dollars can be spent on other things or invested.

I share the concerns expressed about the number of capital projects on the horizon. Guelph cannot lose its AA financial rating. But we cannot continue to defer capital projects in perpetuity. Our city as a whole suffers when we fail to act on identified needs. We must prioritize our projects carefully in order to finance them effectively – and we will do this.

If you haven’t been to visit our Civic Museum lately, I encourage you to drop by the facility on the corner of Dublin and Waterloo and experience this community gem.

Please add your comments.

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