Required reading to guide us into our third year!
As our AGM approaches (April 14), and in response to our email of March 13, we would like to share more information about how the Blockhouse School Project is doing. It makes for a long email, so we hope you’ll find it interesting enough to read to the bottom.
After two years, we are in a much better position to assess both the opportunities for the project, as well as the challenges it faces, many of which were not present or were unclear when we started. Some of the things we envisioned for it will not be possible, while other new possibilities have opened up.
The new Board and other interested people will get to refine our collective vision for the property in the light of these factors.
Maybe this information will help you see opportunities to make your unique contribution to the project.
Positive Developments and Opportunities:
- The Market has brought life to the school on Tuesdays through the summer and fall.
- The school and parking lot provide a great ambience for the Farmers’ Market.
- The gym provides a place to go on rainy days
- Our project and MBAFM have compatible purposes, and there is great potential to become more than the sum of our parts.
- One of the project’s goals, to support and incubate local businesses, is furthered by the presence of the market.
- The same setup could be duplicated for a weekly flea market on another day. Who would like to help make that happen?
Hinchinbrook Farm / MBAFM Therapeutic Garden
- Hinchinbrook Farm abuts onto the School property and works with autistic children using the Horse Boy method.
- The vision is for a garden tailored to the needs of autistic children to be set up in the old play areas behind the chainlink fence.
- This project has already received some funding from the Nova Scotia Co‐operative Council.
- See details about the therapeutic garden.
- Ideas and plans for an approved commercial kitchen have evolved greatly since the project started. With the Farmers’ Market taking place at the school, the potential for growing food, propagating plants, and teaching everything from permaculture to pickling has brought the Food Hub concept forward as the heart of the project.
- The building’s limitations (more below) present the opportunity for its radical transformation.
- Recently we’ve been throwing around more radical ideas of how to deal with the building, perhaps preserving the best parts and detaching/converting the leakiest spaces into something more agricultural in nature. There is still much research to be done, but there are ideas in the air that could energize fundraising.
- The septic system installed last summer, as prescribed by the Department of the Environment, diverted our attention from other projects, but showed us what can be achieved, as well as how fundraising campaigns can generate positive publicity.
Permaculture Courses continue
- We are now taking registration for our THIRD annual Permaculture Design Course (PDC)!
The Waldorf School has “landed”
- The Waldorf School across the road has just purchased the land it has occupied for many years.
- Young families are being attracted to this area because of the Waldorf school AND the Blockhouse School Project – two interesting, progressive projects that give a strong impression that this rural area is a good place to live. With Hinchinbrook Farm next door, that makes three!
- The Waldorf School is awarding us an Environmental Stewardship Award, to be presented April 7.
Farms and other land-based projects in the area
- We know of an increasing number of people setting up organic farms, homesteading, land trusts, workers co-ops and other rural businesses in Lunenburg County. Many of them are off the beaten track. There is lots of potential for a project like ours to support them in various ways (including the Farmers’ Market) from our central location near major roads.
A few other ideas that have gathered interest lately
- Machine Hub / Tool Library
- Agricultural research, experimental trials
- Heating options
- Weekly flea market in the gym and/or outside
- We’d like to acknowledge the great turnout that we’ve had at our major events, and the general support for the project that has come from near and far.
- It is in the Municipality’s interest for our project to be successful.
Challenges and constraints on the project.
The Blockhouse Secondary Planning Strategy imposes a limit of 4000 sq. ft. to be used for commercial purposes, until we can obtain a Development Agreement that permits otherwise.
- A few areas in the Municipality have such strategies, which are designed to maintain the residential quality of life in an area.
- This requirement is being enforced very strictly by MODL (the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg), and even limits the number of vendors that the Farmers Market can have indoors on rainy days.
- It limits our ability to rent out spaces, and therefore our operating income.
- It currently limits our desired function as a business incubator. (Our connection with the Farmers’ Market mitigates this shortcoming somewhat.)
Fire regulations do not allow anyone to sleep in the building until we have built an approved living area.
- Requirements for a living area include fire-resistant doors, private kitchen space, a door to the outside, and its own washroom, among other things.
- Live-in caretakers, which were part of the project’s original vision, would be able to provide regular attention to gardens, building maintenance, greeting visitors and security. The project has been limited by not having someone in this role.
- Accommodation would be something to offer, besides money, to people who would have volunteered in exchange for it. Other spaces could provide accommodation for instructors and students for workshops and courses.
- Living spaces could still be part of the long-term plan for the project, but will require more planning and expense than had been anticipated.
We are paying very dearly for MODL’s insurance
Our lease with MODL (the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg) makes us liable for reimbursing MODL for its insurance on the property. The amount was unspecified in the lease. We should have done more due diligence before signing. We did not know the amount nor receive an invoice from MODL until a year into the lease. The amount was much more than we had expected: about $7000/year. We also carry our own commercial liability insurance, which costs $1000/year.
MODL offered us payment terms for the first year, a year in arrears, and we have paid it. However, it had to be voted on by Council, which didn’t create good optics for us. The next year’s payment terms will have to be voted by Council again, and unless we can double up on payments, which means more fundraising, we’ll be a year in arrears when time comes for Council to vote on conveying the property to us.
- The limited money that we can raise through long term rentals is not available to spend on other things, such as staff, programming, and maintenance.
- We are actually saving MODL thousands of dollars per year by occupying the building. Staff have acknowledged this unofficially, but we do not get credit for it.
MODL’s strict insurance policy limits what we can do with the building until we take possession of it.
- Applicable fire regulations are those for a public building, and are subject to regular inspections.
- Long term plans for the building will have to take this level of regulation into account.
Not owning the property, and uncertainty about the project’s future, have limited the willingness and ability of key partners to invest in the project just yet.
- Infrastructure development partners cannot get involved until we own the building, partly for insurance reasons and partly because of the investment and commitment required.
- Tree planting and some other long-term projects are not getting the attention they should.
- It makes it harder to apply to particular funding sources.
- Volunteer physical labour is in short supply. Work parties have often been poorly attended. Many local young people, with their physical energy, just aren’t around during most of the year, though there is a group that comes out for Open Mics in the summer and at Christmas (right). Until we can have people living on the property, the vision for the project has to accommodate this reality.
- Community Garden: There hasn’t been the amount of interest in a community garden that there would be in a more urban setting, probably because most people who live nearby already have a place to garden. However, this opportunity has in part been taken up by the Farmers Market/ Hinchinbrook Therapeutic Garden project described above.
- We have not paid enough attention to appearances, which is the major concern of our neighbours. We will have to keep the lawn/field mowed.
- Our shingle-turning experiment inexpensively solves the problem of flaking, lead-based paint. However, it is time consuming, and the job has not yet been finished on the most public sides of the building, leading to a derelict-looking exterior. We also have primer and paint for the trim, waiting for warmer weather. A well-attended work party could accomplish wonders. Please respond to the call!
- Signage is another issue that we must address this spring.
- Planters facing the parking lot would add a lot to the look of the building – a nice project for someone.
Condition of the roof
- The roof has leaked a lot this winter, partly because we aren’t heating the building, so drainage on the flat roof gets blocked by slush. A new roof design and strategy will be a priority in the next year.
The early conveyance hearing of spring 2013 mobilized a lot of support on our behalf. Given the result, however, the perception among some in the local community was that the project was over. We received extensive publicity during the Tiny Studio Raffle, but we don’t know how much it translated into that very local support. Our website, Facebook and mailing list are well developed, but more attention needs to go to local publicity, which includes writing press releases and getting news into the local paper.
Blockhouse Secondary Planning Strategy
The Blockhouse Secondary Planning Strategy requires the local Area Advisory Committee to approve Development Agreements. We will need a Development Agreement in order to proceed with major work on the building, and to increase the amount of commercial use permitted.
Again, it is important to cultivate local support for the project. Addressing the issues under “Appearances” and “Local promotion” above will go a long way in this direction.
In conclusion (for now):
Despite the above constraints, we have accomplished quite a lot in the last two years. The new Board will have the opportunity to re-vision the project, taking what we have learned into account. Exciting times.
Thanks for reading all the way to the bottom! Perhaps you can see how you can contribute your particular skills to the Project.
Don’t forget our AGM on Monday, April 14th. But don’t wait until then, please, if you have some thoughts or ideas as we prepare the agenda.
If you missed our last e-mail, you can find it and comment on this page of the website.
You can also contact any of the directors named below, or reply to this email.
(This was an email sent to our mailing list on April 1, 2014)