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Council gives month notice to tenants of Gravelbourg Convent

Heating costs major issue, town still seeking interested buyers.

GRAVELBOURG – Tenants of the Gravelbourg Convent of Jesus and Mary received shocking news recently, that they have a month to vacate.

The decision came after a recent meeting of Gravelbourg Town Council when a Request for Decision was presented. Options in that document included continuing operations at the Convent as usual; giving tenants notice to vacate by September; provide 30 days notice and once empty, reduce heating to “keep the building on life-support mode”; or any other alternative determined by Council.

After lengthy discussion at that Feb. 21 meeting, the most immediate decision ultimately won out - to give current tenants a month to pack up.

“It was not a decision that was made lightly, and it was not a decision that I enjoyed delivering,” said Carol White, CAO of the Town of Gravelbourg. “We don’t want to just end everything.”

The decision was devastating news to those using the convent, members of the Gravelbourg Artisan Co-Operative and the Gravelbourg Community Music Center. Not only was this a venue for them to celebrate arts and culture, but for many tenants a source of income as well.

The main floor of the convent classroom spaces have been rented out by the Town since 2019, with the Music Center using the facility as a base since 2016. Revenue from these rentals meant $15,630 coming into Town coffers in 2022, projecting an increase to $16,690 for 2023. However, financials from last year note expenses at $68,729 with a big increase in heating, water and maintenance costs.

“The cost of maintaining the facilities is the big issue,” said Gravelbourg Town Councillor Paul Boisvert. “The heating system is very old and needs constant repairs. By having it run at full capacity at all times, that stresses it out.”

Last winter alone, it cost $22,071 to heat the convent (Jan. to March, 2022), and that mark has been already exceeded from November 2022 to January 2023 at $23,979. Projected revenues from January to March 2023 is at $4,240 - making for quite the shortfall.

“The boilers have been very troublesome this year from a maintenance point of view,” noted White in the RFD document. “We have had several leaks that required repair, and in some instances, the repair could not be done without draining the boiler(s), thereby increasing the water costs when required to refill.” She also noted that there have been “several instances where only one or the other boiler has been operating.”

Finding the right temperature with the boiler heating system has been challenging as well, with tenants reporting the spaces being too hot or cold, affecting their income and possibly equipment housed in the building.

“We would’ve loved to have kept it going until September, but we just can’t afford to put that kind of money into the building,” Boisvert said. “We’re trying to save our costs.”

Acting immediately is not intended as a slight towards the groups that have been renting the facility.

“We’d love to keep all those groups in there,” Boisvert said. “We looked at it as an incubator situation where small groups and non-profit organizations can get a start by being in the structure. But it just comes to a point where we no longer can do that.”

The Town has been seeking interested buyers for the property for some time, with the latest deadline for Expressions of Interest closing Feb. 24. Any submissions would be evaluated mid-March, with hopeful Request for Proposals starting in early April.

“We’re hopeful,” Boisvert said of the response. “This is a Canada-wide proposal, we opened it completely to anyone.”

The Town Council decision to put the convent on life-support comes days after popular business commentator Paul Martin spoke during a Chamber of Commerce event in Gravelbourg. Through his speaking engagements across the province, Martin sought to answer the question of how to “pump up” the community and get growing again.

“The future of the  community is going to be decided here,” Martin told the group. “You guys are going to make that decision whether you’re fired up about it or not.”

His key message was drawing people to the town, monopolizing on key aspects of Fransaskois culture, the arts, and unique infrastructure.

“When you want to go on vacation, you want to see something different,” Martin said, adding that the rural landscape is the ‘something different' for big city dwellers. “Where we see failure, they see ‘wow’.”

To further illustrate this point, Martin drew comparisons to the famous sites of Machu Pichu in Peru. He noted both Gravelbourg and the famous South American attraction are hard to get to, offer a mind-blowing experience, and possess great attractions - specifically art and culture.

“Think big. So big that your head explodes,” Martin advised. “The possibilities are amazing.”

White referenced Martin’s sentiments while speaking with, noting “I’m sure council would welcome ‘exploding-head’ ideas in this situation.”

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