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Province ambiguous about plans for former HRC site, councillors told

By Patrick Bales, The Orillia Packet & Times

The former Huronia Regional Centre is the proposed future home of the Huronia Cultural Campus.

PATRICK BALES/THE PACKET & TIMES The former Huronia Regional Centre is the proposed future home of the Huronia Cultural Campus.

Orillia city council will see a business plan for the proposed Huronia Cultural Campus, but it's going to take a little while longer.

Coun. Pat Hehn, who is the council representative on the Huronia Cultural Campus Foundation (HCCF), put a motion on the floor giving the group an extension beyond the Sept. 30 deadline for a business plan decided on by council earlier in the year. The motion explained the group just didn't have enough information yet from the provincial government to adequately map out its business plan.

The HCCF believed a public consultation process on the future of the property would conclude by the end of the summer. Instead, it wasn't announced until the last weekend of August, with consultation to take place in September and October.

"The limitation of the HCCF at this time lies in the lack of clarity from the province regarding the future of the property," Hehn wrote in the report accompanying her motion.

Her motion called for giving the group 45 days from when the province renders a decision on the property to submit the business plan.

While the delay really isn't the fault of the HCCF, that mattered little to a few councillors around the table, leading to a lengthy debate as to what to do next with the group who wants to utilize the grounds of the former Huronia Regional Centre as an arts hub.

"Many of us around the table have heard from people in the community that wanted more details (and) rightfully so," said Coun. Sarah Valiquette-Thompson. "We've already given them somewhat of an extension on their business plan. That should have been a critical component that we received probably a year ago."

Valiquette-Thompson said that by the previous Sept. 30 deadline, information councillors "desperately need" should be readily available, including the HCCF's financial commitments, donations received and partnerships agreed upon.

Coun. Ted Emond suggested the issue may require postponing, so that two or three councillors could get together as an adhoc committee to provide the HCCF with a guideline of what council was looking for.

This amendment was eventually defeated after a comparatively lengthy discussion. The councillors were at odds on the committee make-up, including striking a balance between those who have traditionally supported the HCCF and those who have been more leery, as well as the actual number of councillors who could participate.

While Coun. Mason Ainsworth initially thought postponing Monday night's motion could be to council's benefit, he wasn't anxious to give the HCCF too much space beyond the original deadline.

"We asked for a business plan about a year ago and we're still waiting on that," Ainsworth said. "The big issue I have with all this is... postponing this until the province lets them know what's going on and renders a decision. Well, we don't know when that's going to happen. Is that going to happen in a few months? Is that going to take a few years?"

Coun. Tim Lauer was quick to jump to the HCCF's defence, questioning the necessity in the "postponement of a postponement."

"Everybody is accusing HCCF of being the ones who are delaying here; they're not the problem here," Lauer said. "The problem here is that we're dealing with (Infrastructure Ontario) which is notorious for changing their mind... Everything is set in stone for at least two months at a time and then things change."

More than a hour after discussion began on the item, Hehn's original motion made it through, with an amendment added to have representatives of the HCCF at an October meeting of council "to present an update on their activities to date including financial statements."

Ainsworth requested a recorded vote on the motion, which passed 8-1. He was the only opposition.

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