Last year, the Village of Burns Lake and the Lakes District Museum Society signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on the St. John’s Heritage Church Redevelopment Project. (Priyanka Ketkar photo)

Would St. John’s Heritage Church in Burns Lake ever be reopened?

Council to revisit the matter with a letter from Michael Riis-Christianson

  • Jul. 8, 2020 12:00 a.m.

During the June 23 council meeting, Michael Riis-Christianson presented the council with a letter outlining the St. John’s Heritage Church’s redevelopment prospects in the hopes that the council would revisit the project.

Last year, the Village of Burns Lake and the Lakes District Museum Society signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on the St. John’s Heritage Church Redevelopment Project under which the museum society was to present a business plan that would be agreeable to both parties. After this the municipality would have undertaken the necessary work to reopen the church. However, the council rejected the museum society’s proposal in November 2019.

The council rejected the proposal on two grounds; first, the council felt that the facility would require external funding and would not be self-supported based on the rough budgets presented and second, the council felt that the cost of funding the redevelopment didn’t justify the facility’s limited usage. The response mentioned that it should “result in a facility that is used year-round and not used for the majority of the time as just another rental option for the community.”

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Christianson, who is a staunch supporter of the redevelopment of the church space for public use, presented the council with what he called as the “missing piece of the church’s financial puzzle”. He informed the council that the museum society had two other projects in mind, the financial projections for which were excluded from the original proposal: a summer school of arts and a maker’s space. The exclusion of these two projects was done assuming that a conservative estimate of the facility’s earning power would be more appropriate to present. According to Christianson, the inclusion of these two projects would more than double the facility’s revenue and would make it cost-neutral in three years and profitable in four years.

He also believes that this would “make St. John’s Heritage Church the village’s first “self-supporting” recreation facility”.

To help reduce the building’s operating cost in its first year, Christianson, through his letter to the council, has offered to do all the administrative work for the first year free of cost, provided the municipality repairs the church and is able to convince a non-profit organization to take up the facility’s long-term responsibility.

The village’s Chief Administrative Officer Sheryl Worthing informed Lakes District News in an email that the council will be adding the letter to the council’s next regular agenda for consideration. She also said that delay in the church’s revitalization was due to lack of funding as the village needs to find viable funding to bring the building up to code and “there needs to be a business case to determine the viability of opening the building as a public facility.”

Worthing also said that the village has continued to work on other aspects of this project.

“To date, a water service line has been brought to the property line. A sidewalk has been installed on First Avenue which includes a let down for wheelchair accessibility to the front entrance. A let down was also installed for the potential parking lot. We are also working with a contractor to assess the cost of restoring the stained glass windows however, this has been delayed because of Covid-19,” she said.

Whether or not the council would move on the actual redevelopment project to turn the church into a multi-use facility for the public remains to be seen until the next council meeting.

Priyanka Ketkar
Multimedia journalist

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