Sackville recognizes church as iconic landmark

Katie Tower
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But responsibility to save church doesn’t rest on municipality’s shoulders, says mayor

While members of Sackville town council agree that the former Sackville United Church building is an important part of the community, they say they will play no role in helping to save it.

SACKVILLE, N.B. – Members of town council don’t dispute the fact the former Sackville United Church building is an iconic landmark in the community and its loss would be felt by many. What they do argue, however, is the role the municipality should play in helping to save the building.

Mayor Bob Berry said he has received dozens of e-mails, letters and phone calls asking the town to step in to preserve the church building before it’s too late. But he reiterated that the municipality has no intention of taking on the exorbitant costs or added responsibility of purchasing and maintaining the 135-year-old building.

“We don’t know what we’re expected to do here,” said Berry during council’s recent discussion meeting.

Berry said the property on which the former church sits is owned by a private developer who has every right to put the building up for sale.

“We can’t force them to do anything on that,” he said.

Berry was responding to the presentation made at the discussion meeting April 7 by the community group SPLASH (Sackville People Leading Action to Save Heritage), which is leading the efforts to save the church from being sold or demolished.

The mayor said he doesn’t think it’s up to the town to take over the church, despite its historical significance. He questioned why people are depending on the town to save the building when the former congregation and the Maritime United Church haven’t been able to do so and even Mount Allison University hasn’t stepped in to contribute.

Berry said if there were to be any kind of supportive role for the municipality to play in helping SPLASH’s efforts along, he urged the group to come forward with a concrete business plan.

“And you better do it quickly . . . because from what I understand, that building doesn’t have a long life left.”

Council did show support to the group in a “symbolic” way during its regular meeting the following week (April 14), by passing a motion that recognized the former United Church as an iconic building and a historically important landmark in the town of Sackville.

But Coun. Shawn Mesheau said he was unsure what purpose the motion will serve, saying he hopes it doesn’t raise anyone’s expectations about the municipality’s role in all of this.

“My clarity around this is clouded,” he said. “I’m not sure what leverage this will bring . . . or what the hopes are.”

He agreed with Mayor Berry that he has yet to see a substantial plan from the group on how they plan to take on ownership of the church building in a viable way.

Coun. Joyce O’Neil also questioned the intent of the motion, pointing out that council members are “all in agreement that this is an iconic building.” She worries the motion will be seen as a sign that the town can be looked to for financial support.

But Coun. Bill Evans said he views the motion simply as a way to “provide moral support to a group who is trying to do something.”

“It’s something people feel very strongly about,” he said.

Coun. Ron Aiken echoed his sentiments.

“This is just doing what we can for now,” he said.

SPLASH committee member Daimen Hammock said that’s exactly what the purpose of the motion was.

“Basically what we’re looking for is moral support,” he said.

Hammock said the committee does have a plan to make the church feasible, which would help propel the economy.

“We are taking this seriously . . . and we want to work with all parties on this.”

The church building was put up on the market two months ago for a dollar, with the understanding that it must be moved from the site. A deal is currently in the works for the sale but it is a conditional offer.

SPLASH chair John Duchemin said his group has made an alternative offer on the church, which proposes to keep the building in place. He said the group has been putting a lot of their efforts over the past year into fundraising, trying to control the water damage as much as possible in the aging, leaking building, and raising awareness of its possible demise.

“People are well aware of its long and storied history,” he said. “But what is equally as important is its visual impact on the town.”

Organizations: Sackville United Church, Maritime United Church, Mount Allison University

Geographic location: Sackville

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