County council agrees OMAFRA should stay in Wellington

It might take some extra work, but a new county archives can be built with­out moving the Ministry of Agriculture’s home from the central part of the county.

County council agreed March 27 with its heritage committee that something will have to be done to find accom­modation for not only the min­istry, but also numerous farm groups who meet at the minis­try offices at the Wellington County Museum and Archives in Aboyne.

The county has been plan­ning to build a new home for its archives, but some farm groups found out recently that the plan is to place the archives where the Ontario Ministry of Agri­culture, Food, and Rural Af­fairs has been located for years.

Committee chairman Brad Whitcombe said his committee deferred a number of decisions after receiving a letter from councillor Lou Maieron, who represents the county on the Wellington Federation of Agri­culture.

Whitcombe told county council on March 27 that the letter raised some concerns, “and I think they were reas­onable concerns.” The WFA plans to be a delegation to the committee and perhaps also to county council.

Whitcombe said that while he would like to move forward with the new archives, the WFA offered some strong ob­jections, saying that the minis­try “presence in Centre Well­ing­ton is vital.”

He agreed the central loca­tion means easy access for farm­ers, and the WFA also not­ed the county would lose reve­nue from no more rentals for Aboyne Hall.

“The committee shared those concerns, and no one wants OMAFRA to leave the county,” Whitcombe said. “There have been some posi­tive discussions. I think, Mr. Warden, we can achieved both of our goals.”

Councillor Carl Hall has stat­ed at several council meet­ings he is concerned about mov­ing the ministry, even though he supports the archives project.

“My problem is: where?” he said, adding he has never seen any formal plans for the archives. He asked if Aboyne Hall will also be removed in the expansion.

Whitcombe said the propos­al is to keep Aboyne Hall, and the OMAFRA wing would be removed. The archives would be built in its place, and there would be a new facade on the county library headquarters, which would take over the second floor. At the same time, the current wing of the archives would be used by the museum to solve its current storage problems.

The ministry has been aware of the county’s proposal for some time now.

Hall said he had not been sure Aboyne Hall and the new kitchen would remain intact, and was pleased to hear they will. “I hope they’re still open to the public”

Hall said he is pleased the committee delayed some deci­sions until it can consider what to do with for all the commo­dity groups that currently enjoy free meeting space in the OMAFRA wing.

“A number need meeting space,” Hall said. “Most have no money to rent.”

Hall added that removing the OMAFRA offices “still bothers me. It would be very remiss of this council to say ‘move out,’ [to the ministry.] Anybody north of Centre Well­ington would be put out for extra meetings. It’s very im­portant to be [located] in the centre of the county.”

Hall noted that the former OMAFRA offices used to be located in Arthur, but that was years ago.

“It’s not the first time OMAFRA has moved – as long as it stays central,” he said.

Hall said, “I’m wondering if there is another way. This could still be a multi-use. I don’t want to see it moved from Welling­ton County into the city. It’s very inconvenient; it’s a slap in the face if we can’t find a central place in the county.”

Hall did note that he had received a phone call from Grand River Raceway, and its officials told him there are rooms there for 15 to 200 people, with kitchen facilities available.

Hall said, “It’s not got room for OMAFRA, but it’s another option. I would hope your com­mittee doesn’t make a quick de­cision.”

He concluded that he is pleas­ed the committee put off some decisions, and, “I still have a lot of faith in the com­mittee system.”

Whitcombe replied that his commitment is to work hard to find places for agriculture groups, and he agreed “with most of what Carl Hall said.”

Warden John Green said that the OMAFRA workers have no desire, either, to work in the city, and, “They’re com­mitted to staying in the county. We may have to find them ac­commodation.”

And, he said, “We’ve got more than one option for the commodity groups.” He said perhaps some of them can find meeting space farther north, if that is where they are focused.

Councillor Joanne Ross-Zuj said the Grand River Raceway has offered free meeting space to all the commodity groups.

Green suggested that a move of a few miles is “still central.”

Whitcombe noted there extra meet­ing spaces in at Marden, as well as at the Drayton library.

Ross-Zuj reminded council Veterans hall, in the base­ment of the Centre Wellington administration centre, is also available rent free.

Whitcombe thanked council for its suggestions, and council approved the recommendations of the committee, including the deferrals.