The immediate future of the Old Brick School has been determined as the Town of Athabasca’s council and Athabasca County council addressed the issues of lead paint and asbestos in the school’s boiler room.
However, while the March 14 joint council meeting addressed the building’s short term problems, more questions were raised than answered regarding what the future of the building should be.
How much money should be invested in maintaining the building if nobody is committed to using it? Should the town and county consider finding private individuals who would be willing to take on management of the building? Is there funding available to finance the costs associated with renovating the building and making it usable?
These are all valid questions that could not be answered in part because they were complicated and layered issues with no immediate solution. Finding private individuals to take over the building could be difficult because of its operating costs.
Also, the school is designated as a registered heritage structure, meaning it is protected by the province’s Minister of Tourism and Culture but it does not receive funding as a heritage building.
But in addition to these issues, there is no clear leadership regarding the Old Brick School. It is clear that people in the community treasure the building, but it has gone unused since 2013, and will continue to do so until some course or direction is decided upon.
Proactive steps need to be taken to stop the school from falling into total disrepair. One of the suggestions made at the joint meeting was to appoint a special advisory committee to explore all the options available and determine their feasibility. This committee would be able find out if selling the building is a viable option or if some sort of sharing solution is available.
This is a good start as it would empower a group and provide a mandate. It would also begin the process of taking discussion and ideas and turn them into a reality.
The school is a beautiful piece of the town’s history that should be enjoyed as more than eye candy. Let’s get the ball rolling.