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Community envisions options for Picton’s Town Hall

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
Community members shared practical, bizarre and inspiring ideas to save Picton’s Town Hall during a community visioning gathering Sunday at the Ross Street, Picton location.

All ages filled the upper level of the hall to brainstorm on how the community structure could continue serving local residents and community groups for many years to come.

The building was home to the Picton fire station on the ground floor prior to being decommissioned more than a year ago when the fire hall moved to its new building on McDonald Drive.

The municipality owns the building, but it is possible the structure will be declared surplus and sold. The Town Hall Supporters represent people in the community who don’t want the building turned over to private development and feel it should remain a community asset.

“Council has decided to go to Request for Proposals (RFP) to allow for different alternative proposals to be presented,” said Picton Councillor Lenny Epstein. “The RFP hasn’t been put out yet and is going to be put out in the early part of this year.”

Introductory remarks and a brief presentation were made by Epstein. Leslie Smail-Persaud followed with a short film “History of the Town Hall” by Sarah Moran.

Narrated by Moran, the film showed the significance of the building to the community over the years depicting its long history. Moran related how the town hall began as farmers’ market and market hall, later becoming the Bijou Opera House.

“It’s part of our historic fabric built in 1866 for $6,000,” said Moran, noting the hall has remained largely true to its original form.

“Since, our town hall has contributed to Picton and its community in many ways.”

She also spoke about how the building “has risen from the ashes several times, undergoing its latest restoration in 1988, but now its future is being questioned.”

A designated landmark under the Ontario Heritage Act, the heritage building facing King Street has been a Picton landmark for more than 150 years. The two-storey structure located at 2 Ross Street is the oldest town hall in Prince Edward County, but faces an uncertain future. At 1,618 square feet, the Picton Town Hall located on the upper floor hosts many community events and clubs and is the only municipally-owned space located in downtown Picton for such events.

Save Picton Town Hall Supporters working group describes itself as “a coalition working to preserve this community asset”. The working group of eight or nine came from the original working group including Christine Renaud, Duncan Moore, Epstein and Smail-Persaud. The group wants to see the entire building used as a pubic space for the community.

“The hall belongs to the people of the County,” said Christine Renaud.

“The working group got together and thought it was really important for us to get the community’s input as widely as possible,” said Smail-Persaud.

The question asked at the outset of the meeting was: “If the Picton Town Hall could be the best town hall you could imagine, what would that look like?”

As a dozen or so people crowded each of the five big tables and with large sheets of paper at the ready as the brainstorming session began. People were asked to express how the hall might be used in the future, to consider potential uses during the winter and also to think about revenue generating ideas.

Several local artists — Tim Snyder, Teresa Westervelt, Krista Dalby, Andrew Csafordi and Marc Keelan-Bishop — were on hand to help translate ideas to paper and bring them to life in a visual, imaginative and fun way.

Each artist helped illustrate thoughts, possibilities and imaginations into words, drawings and cartoons using black marker pens as each table became the epicentre of ideas — whether impractical, bizarre or inspiring.

Although public access to the lower floor was not possible during the meeting, floor plans and photographs were available for viewing and ideas for the entire structure (not just the town hall) were encouraged.

Ideas for the building were wide-ranging and included an apiary, a youth hostel and a plant nursery. A farmers’ market was suggested along with space for buskers, an art camp, bicycle rentals and free daycare. Participants wanted to see craft fairs, a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) drop-off spot, a cultural hub, a cafe and to see a skating rink outside in winter. Short-term leases for small business start-ups were suggested together with art exhibitions, bike sharing and a space for weddings.

Ideas on how to utilize the aerial tower were discussed including the possibility of renting it out. And a suggestion of turning the hose tower into a climbing wall was deemed a neat idea by many. Incorporating neighbouring Benson Park into future plans for the town hall was also discussed.

The visioning session concluded with each of the artists’ presenting the thoughts gathered from each group as they briefly talked through the innovative ideas.

Westervelt’s group wanted “to bring people of all ages together and to keep the meaning of community”.

Dalby presented her group’s ideas for an ideal town hall which included a performance space, ride share hubs, cafe with a nice patio, skating rink, social enterprise so there is a cafe which could also provide employment training, free day care centre, food trucks, movies either here or in the park, artists’ markets and workshops, apiary and food festivals.

Partnerships and ideas for generating some revenue included a cafe, market, garden show, festival of small halls, general meetings of community groups, pop-up vendors, a tea room and a climbing wall in the hose tower.

Keelan-Bishop’s group suggested “a jazz venue, festival space, art exhibit space, and managed it such a way that it doesn’t have to make a profit, but it should probably break even somewhere along the line, rental office space, a home for the BIA and tourist board and chamber of commerce.”

“We are feeling very positive,” said Renaud as the meeting wrapped up.

“I think the working group that I’m part of is thrilled with the numbers because it was packed and lots of great ideas generated and more people will be checking our Facebook page.”

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  1. Dennis Fox says:

    Thanks Mike, but that really isn’t a seniors centre – it is rather a healthcare centre that is open Monday to Friday from 9 to 4. It is a valuable asset, but it is not an activity centre.

  2. Mike says:

    Dennis, there is a great seniors centre just down the road from town hall on King. My father in law goes there and we have to pry him out of there every time we go to pick him up… he loves it.

  3. Dennis Fox says:

    There are many worthwhile uses that hopefully could share this space. As our Mayor pointed out recently – close to 63% of taxpayers are seniors. I find it odd that this community has no seniors activity centre – a place where seniors could go to meet, play games, art classes, exercise programs, etc..for a small fee.
    Just an idea to start bouncing around.

  4. Rob Bennett says:

    Possibly the space could be used as temporary shelter for Abused Women & Children, or for homeless people. The venue would be great for the Arts.

    R Bennett, EMD

  5. Vincent de Tourdonnet says:

    Thanks to all who participated. Wonderful to see the community support of this tremendous asset.

  6. Gary Mooney says:

    Having been involved with several not-for-profit issue-oriented groups, I’ve found that there is a need for a centrally-located meeting space. Picton is the most convenient location for most.

    If a meeting is booked for Milford, or even Bloomfield, people who live on the other side of the County are less likely to attend.

    So, when there is an issue that needs input County-wide, groups need to have a meeting space available in Picton.

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