The owner of the Donald chemical building is rebutting claims of poor conduct and said his goal is still to keep the building in public use.

A co-op formerly partnered with Jim O’Connor accused him of failing to live up to his side of an agreement made to restore the historic building. The groups comprising the co-op invested more than $90,000 of funding, including grants, toward stabilizing the building between 2010-2013. Co-op member Leora Berman, who has managed the initiative on behalf of the co-op, said she is considering legal action in the matter.

But in a statement to The Highlander, O’Connor said Berman has not lived up to her timeline to restore the building by 20122013. He also indicated the two sides failed to reach a new agreement over the timeline to complete the restoration.

“Agreement on a new MOU (memorandum of understanding) failed due to the inability of Ms. Berman to provide a timeline for the completion of the original commitments,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor initially signed an MOU with the groups in 2010 to lease the building. The agreement indicated after the co-op was more formally created, they would be given a new “life-team lease” for the building by 2015. But after that occurred, the two sides never came to a new agreement by the time the MOU expired.

O’Connor noted donations and grants to restore the building were handled by Berman. He added any money raised from a storage business he runs from the building “has been used solely for the preservation of the Donald building.”

“The building in Donald is and has always been slated for public use,” O’Connor said. “That goal has not changed.”

O’Connor declined an interview and did not respond to further requests for comment on what the public use would be.

Berman responded that the co-op had targeted 2013 to secure the building, which they did. At the time, she said engineers indicated no further restorative work should be undertaken until the building’s original blueprints could be found. But they have not been located.

“He was notified from day one this would be a long process,” Berman said. “Did I hope it would finish, it would be fully restored now? Of course, I did, but this was none of his business or concern.”

Berman said she has also been working with engineers from the University of Toronto to find alternative options to do a proper restoration. But the ongoing dispute has halted progress.

She also claimed O’Connor seriously damaged the building when he improperly renovated it for a storage business in 2017.

O’Connor did not respond to questions on this claim but said he continues to work to maintain the building.

“Any current action is for the safety, maintenance and preservation of the Donald building,” he said.

Berman said O’Connor was supposed to give control of the building to the co-op to oversee its continued use and restoration. She further said the preservation of the historic structure is the most important thing.

“Restoring heritage buildings, according to all the experts, takes a long time,” Berman said. “There are so many considerations.”


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