BY SCOTT CARMICHAEL Glengarry News Staff
Now that the Glengarry Fencibles Trust has acquired the Bishop’s House in St. Raphael’s after more than a decade of campaigning and negotiating, the next phase – discussing and formulating plans for its rehabilitation – begins.
“We have some very concrete ideas that we want to finalize,” Fencibles Trust director Brenda Baxter told The News last week.
“The central part of the building, the downstairs, will be, as planned, a cultural and interpretive centre, with the downstairs rooms telling the stories of the ‘Big Bishop’ (Rev. Alexander Macdonell, for whom the residence was built in 1808), the old parish, the St. Raphael’s Ruins, and possibly the cairn…
“Upstairs, above that, we anticipate having an apartment that, in time, would be the home of a teacher/historian.”
Mrs. Baxter added that there are also plans for potentially converting some of the building’s other rooms for a non-educational, yet significant, purpose.
“We have one room that will be 70 feet by 30 feet, with very gracious ceilings that are at least 12 feet high … which would be lovely for hosting wedding receptions … but that’s very much down the road,” she said.
“The classroom-sized rooms .. We’d need one of them for a kitchen that could accommodate catering, because we don’t anticipate cooking within the building.
“This is something that was suggested to us, and something that we are considering very seriously.”
Mrs. Baxter added that using part of the rehabilitated Bishop’s House for wedding-related activities would be a great fit, given the popularity of the adjacent Ruins as an engagement and wedding photos site.
Previously, a portion of the Bishop’s House was also being considered as a permanent home for the Quilt of Belonging.
However, Mrs. Baxter said those plans likely won’t come to fruition.
“I’ve spoken with both the designer (Esther Bryan) and Mackie Robertson, who’s the chairman of the Quilt’s board, and they, ideally, would like a room almost twice the size of ours, at least in length, so that it would display the Quilt well,” she said.
“They would also like higher ceilings.” Mrs. Baxter touched on some of the other preparatory work and planning that will be taking place over the ensuing months.
“We need to focus, very much, of course, on mould remediation, a new roof…and we have to contact a landscape architect with a heritage background to help in the restoration of the (circa 1826) lilac gardens,” she said.
“But we’re also very interested in creating sightlines to the Ruins, where we leave the stately trees and the bones of the garden as is…Right now, it is so overgrown in comparison to what it once was.
“So creating that ‘curb appeal,’ those sightlines with the Ruins already there…it would just be such a stunning site,” added Mrs. Baxter.
“We’re really excited, but we want to be sure that we go forward correctly and with our vision complete.”
The overall rehabilitation of the two centuries-old Bishop’s House – which has remained vacant since serving as the Mount Carmel House treatment centre for local residents with alcohol and drug dependency problems between June 1981 and June 1996 – has been projected to cost in the neighbourhood of $2 million. Work is scheduled to take place in three phases.
A business plan released by the Fencibles Trust this past March indicated that the initial phase, which includes “minimal” work such as renovating the main floor, and operating expenses, would cost about $200,000.
First-phase work is slated to take place between Dec. 30, 2015 and Dec. 30, 2016.
Phase 2 consists of a year-long fundraising drive, between the same dates, as well as project preparation that would occur between Dec. 30, 2015 and April 1, 2017.
The third and final phase – between April 1, 2017 and Feb. 1, 2018 – would involve the major renovation work required, and eventual occupation of the building.
The Glengarry Fencibles Trust – a non-profit citizens’ group, which, along with a previous incarnation, has lobbied for the preservation and restoration of the Bishop’s House since the early part of the previous decade – purchased the Bishop’s House, including the gardens property, from the Alexandria- Cornwall Catholic Diocese on August 14 for a toonie.
The Trust officially takes ownership on December 2.
Mrs. Baxter praised the efforts of everyone involved in the Fencibles Trust’s acquisition of the Bishop’s House, including the contribution of South Glengarry council and administration.
“Council’s unanimous decision (in June) to reject the demolition permit and protect the (municipal) heritage designation on that site was a huge boost to the realization of our project, which is to restore and have people enjoy this building and this property for future generations,” she said.
For more information about the Bishop’s House, including how to donate to the rehabilitation project, visit goo.gl/xIQcbE or bishopshouse.ca.
© The Glengarry News, Wednesday, August 26, 2015. pg 6
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