Out-of-box ideas for Frost

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A little over three years ago, like many Highlanders, I was excited to learn that the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) had purchased the Frost Centre.

The welcome news came amid COVID-19.

Then union president, Warren (Smokey) Thomas, heralded the purchase in a Jan. 8, 2021 media release as setting up the historic Frost Centre “for new life and a major lift.” It was to be a members’ resource and training centre.

The site had been vacant for years, and, not surprisingly, deteriorating at an alarming rate.

At the time, union first vice-president Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida said preserving the integrity of the site was of the utmost importance.

The hyperbole of the day was thick. Almeida said they had a “duty” to preserve the property’s integrity, and were looking forward to working with Highlands’ community partners to reinvigorate the Frost.

Thomas retired, and Almeida was ousted in March 2022 union executive elections. Then, lawsuits began flying out OPSEU’s doors.

Since then, OPSEU hasn’t spoken with us much. They said they’d put together a project team to consider options for the Frost. They would not comment further, thanking us in advance for understanding.

Pressed by The Highlander, they said back in Feb. 2023, they’d have more information to share at a later date. They never did. Thanks to a source, we received news of the listing last week.

Meanwhile, we have also been told by the lawyer representing a Muskoka-based contractor hired to do work at the site – who sued the union for back pay and damages – that the claim had been settled. OPSEU had filed a defence and counter-claim. No further details are forthcoming.

Just as Barrie Martin, Carol Moffatt and Liz Danielsen express disappointment in the potential sale in today’s edition, we share their sentiment.

And, like them, we wonder what will happen to the property.

Based on pre-sale reports sent to OPSEU, the site does have challenges. For example, Algonquin Highlands successfully negotiated easements for the trails on St. Nora Lake and for the boat launch. There are also heritage designations on some of the buildings.
At present, the door appears open to limited residential development.

Some are encouraging Martin to rally the troops once again, to put the centre into local hands. However, while $3.5 million is not ridiculous for this prime piece of real estate and its buildings, it does not take into account the millions that will be required to restore aformentioned buildings and ensure wells and septics are functioning.

This is going to require very deep pockets, indeed.

Of course, with the provincial and federal governments both pontificating about the need for housing – and namely affordable housing – perhaps it is time for MP Jamie Schmale and MPP Laurie Scott to stop wringing their hands over the future of the Frost and begin some real dialogue as to how this site might be converted to housing – while still respecting easements and heritage. This could be a win-win for all of us. However, it is going to take the type of ‘out of the box’ thinking that Scott and Schmale are not exactly known for. They’ll revert to all the reasons it can’t be done, rather than finding reasons for why and how.