Leir House looking for funds

Canada’s upcoming centennial-and-a-half has prompted city council to address dire maintenance that’s needed at the Leir House.

Canada’s upcoming centennial-and-a-half has prompted city council to address dire maintenance that’s needed at the Leir House.

To celebrate the nation’s 150th birthday, the federal government has committed to assist in upgrading as many as 1,800 public facilities around the country with $150 million in funding. Penticton is pleading for $450,000 of it.

Any community applying for the money has to commit to matching it, so if Penticton’s application is successful, the Leir House will benefit from $900,000 in restoration between 2016 and 2017.

“So it’s giving us a cost savings opportunity of almost half-a-million dollars that we wouldn’t be taking advantage of otherwise,” said Coun. Max Picton.

From the time the program was announced, city staff only had a short window of opportunity to act. In addition to the Leir House, staff also suggested upgrading the centennial plaza in front of the SS Sicamous, as well as the construction of a bandshell in Okanagan Lake Park. However, staff recommended that council choose the Leir House, as the city’s grant writer felt “it would yield the highest chance of success,” said Mitch Moroziuk, director of operations.

Coun. Helena Konanz supported the idea of restoring the Leir House, but she wasn’t happy about having to rush the decision.

“I really appreciate that we need the $450,000 and I really don’t want to jeopardize that — but I really feel like this should have been council’s decision on what we spend money on.”

Moroziuk said because of the program’s short deadline, a resolution was needed that evening or else a special meeting would have been called. Council voted to unanimously support it.

Coun. Judy Sentes said since such a large figure is being dealt with, she appreciated the concern of Konanz, but as a liaison to the Penticton Arts Council (the group which serves to administer the Leir House), Sentes said the building requires serious attention.

“They can’t wash the windows in that historical house because they’re so brittle they break,” she said. “This is an opportunity to acquire a significant chunk of money in a framework that we would never be able to do ourselves.”

“If we don’t (apply to the Canada 150 infrastructure fund) we will definitely be spending $900,000 over the next five to 10, maybe 11 years, and all of our own money,” Moroziuk said. “Given the brief notice of this application, and given the fact that we do have to spend this money at some point, we felt it most appropriate to see if we could at least grab or get that $450,000.”

Moroziuk said the building hasn’t been maintained for a number of years, and as a registered heritage home, the city has a responsibility to maintain it. To call upon federal assistance “would be the best case scenario for taxpayers,” he said.

The Leir House broke ground in 1927, and served as a large family home until 1951, when it was sold to the Penticton Regional Hospital as a dormitory for nurses.

It was then purchased by the City in 1979, and opened to the public in 1980. The building is still open year-round, and can be rented for banquets and events. The doors are open for visitors every weekday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.