Mayor’s vision for town hall includes modern office building for staff and restoration of 1926 building

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Main photo: The original Town Hall auditorium, date and event unknown. Mayor Aitchison would like to see the former auditorium restored and used as municipal ceremonial and meeting space (Photo: Muskoka Heritage Place collection)

Huntsville’s Town Hall was built in 1926, a beautiful, stately building in its time that in many ways still is. Recent discussions around the council table about the need for larger council chambers got Mayor Scott Aitchison thinking about a grander vision for the old structure, perhaps in time for its 100th anniversary.

He shared his vision with councillors at the November 29 General Committee meeting.

“I think using Club 55 (for council chambers) is a short-term solution to a challenge that I think this community is going to continue to face. We are a growing municipality,” said Aitchison, noting that the building has changed much in his short time around it. “When we did the (Algonquin) Theatre, we turned the auditorium into office space for staff and we made the stage of the auditorium the gallery for council. At the time, we quadrupled the space for the gallery and we thought that would be great, but here we are 15 years later and it’s not big enough.”

In addition to not being large enough to house some of the municipality’s busier meetings, like Planning Committee, it’s also not an accessible space, he said.

Lastly, Aitchison said he has concerns about the building itself. “I’ve also been down in the basement in this part of the building… Every time we go down there where we are keeping important municipal records, there’s a layer of red dust (from the bricks) on the boxes and water gets in that area.” He added that, while he’s not an expert on buildings, “it looks to me like there’s some serious problems with the foundation on the back side of the building… I would hate for us to embark upon what would seem like a minor renovation project only to determine that the foundations are rotting and we need to do a lot more work.”

I think it’s important that our municipal offices and the work of this council happen in the downtown core. It also is important for us to save and protect the Town Hall, the original building.
Mayor Scott Aitchison

Aitchison said his current vision is to build a modern office structure behind town hall for municipal staff, and then “restore the original 1926 Town Hall to its former beauty” and turn what was the auditorium, and is now office space, into ceremonial and meeting space.

“In 2026, the building will be 100 years old. That might be a nice birthday gift to the community to protect it. I don’t know if it makes sense. It would be millions of dollars to do it.”

He noted that the Algonquin Theatre was built in the downtown core because the council at the time felt it was important to keep that kind of activity there. Aitchison added that he thinks Bracebridge and Gravenhurst made huge mistakes in taking their town hall out of the town core. “I would hate to see us do that.”

The next step Aitchison thinks is needed is to have the building professionally assessed to determine what shape the structure is currently in. “I don’t think we are solving our council chamber problem in the next year, but I think it’s important to take a serious look at this building.”

Councillor Nancy Alcock was the only one to comment on the idea at the meeting, and she concurred with the Mayor’s suggestions.

“I think this is an opportunity and I think it’s going to be longer term but the timing might be right,” said Alcock. “Perhaps we’ll have some new funds after we lost what was perceived as a community space with the Waterloo building, so putting some money back into our existing community space is not such a bad idea… Keeping town hall in the centre of the community was the right decision then, it’s the right decision now. I think that makes a whole lot of sense and I think it could be a really exciting community project.”

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9 Comments

  1. Frances Botham on

    Why not keep the Waterloo building for this purpose and other uses rather than spend the taxpayers’ money on what is not necessary? Let’s put sidewalks and roads and men’s shelter and senior’s needs and food banks first.

  2. Why all of a sudden is the Town Hall an Historic example of architecture? Why must we spend money to bring back the old auditorium to its former grandeur when it never had what you’d call grandeur??
    Why can’t we simply repair the basement and make sure it’s dry. If it’s wet down there, are we sure there’s no mold down where the Senior’s have their Club room?
    As for ceremonial gatherings, can’t we use the Theater and the Founders lounge area?
    If we need more office space than what we can fit into the existing areas, by all means rent space or build something, but why should it be connected to the Town Hall?
    Need more space for Council meetings? Do you really need all the staff sitting behind the Councillors?
    As for bemoaning the move of the Town Hall away from the Town Center, TD moved out, Loblaws, Dominion, Scotia Bank . Are you sure this location will still be the center of Town in 20 years? I think it will be like North Bay with the “Old Downtown area”.
    Time to put the money to better uses like Fran suggests.

    • I agree Bill, I should have worded my last comment differently, to read if they are worried about the Center of Town, wait and see what it’s like in 20 years. But I am 100% against any restoration/makeovers for the Town Hall. Not necessary.

  3. I totally agree with Frances Botham and Jim Sinclair. Make use of the Waterloo Centre, do what repairs are needed to the existing town hall, direct funds to men’s shelter, senior’s and other taxpayer’s needs and quit spending taxpayers money on things that don’t directly affect those taxpayers. It’s so easy to spend other people’s money. The space is available in the theatre as Jim mentions and in the Waterloo Centre as Frances notes. DON’T BUILD MORE SPACE!

    • Totally agree with the comments on checking out the Town Hall basement, repairing health issues as necessary, and directing funds as needed to senior’s and other taxpayer needs. Great ideas to celebrate their 100th anniversary, but until we know what we will have in the way of hospitals for Huntsville and Bracebridge, very premature at this point. That decision will directly affect whether more space is needed or not, as the population could certainly be changing.

  4. I’m not sure how I feel about this. By all means have the building assessed and make sure it lasts another 100 years. Keep the town business in the town hall, downtown. But I’m not sure why the council meetings need to be in the town hall. There are lots of bigger spaces around town and the Waterloo building is one of them. The council chambers can become office space. The back of the building is fine the way it is. I don’t think building to the street will make that area very good looking.

  5. Colour me confused (as usual). Is the Waterloo building not reserved exclusively for rehabilitation of unionized, construction workers and their families?

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