There's no question the grand old Lunenburg Academy building is well-loved by most in the town.
But with a town population of about 2,200, local officials are concerned they won't be able to restore the century-old building to its original glory without help from federal and provincial taxpayers.
The Town of Lunenburg took over the building in 2012 after the public school there closed. There's an emotional attachment to it that runs deep for many who attended the former school and still live in the community today.
Mayor Rachel Bailey grew up in Lunenburg and stresses the importance of the building not only to the community but also on the world stage. The town is one of eight UNESCO cultural world heritage sites across Canada.
"We're a small town with a big responsibility. We have a beautiful opportunity here to revitalize a national historic site," she said.
"To take it from a school — which had functioned very well until 2012 — and now make it into something again that will be a contributing part of the community."
1st phase to cost $2.3 million
A handful of tenants already lease space in the building and the renovations are intended to bring in more organizations, including the local library.
The estimated cost of restoring the building, which was constructed between 1893 and 1895, is in the millions. A new assessment for Phase 1 of the project, which includes sprucing up the exterior, is estimated at more than $2.3 million.
Town officials have turned to the federal government for assistance and applied for a Parks Canada grant of $1 million. It is also hoping to secure another $500,000 from the province.
Bailey said another $200,000 has also been raised in the community by the Lunenburg Academy Foundation. That leaves the municipality on the hook for $620,000 to complete the first phase of the restoration.
This leaves some concerned about where that money will come from. Coun. Brian Davis worries about overextending taxpayers.
"We certainly have to be careful because it's taxpayers' money here and as I said, it's a small town. I'm concerned," he said.
Confidence in fundraising
Roxanna Lohnes-Smith is the president of the Lunenburg Academy Foundation and attended the former school. She said they can count on continued support from other former students as fundraising kicks into high gear.
"We're going to have to embark on a more intensive fundraiser and appeal to the alumni. I'm confident they'll come through," she said. "For example, one of the alumni said they would give us $10,000 if we could match it. So that was $20,000 raised in not too much time."
The town aims to turn the former school into a multi-use cultural, entrepreneurial and educational space, providing a home for a mix of non-profit organizations and for-profit businesses with the idea that some of the tenants' rent will offset capital costs.
Hope tenants can offset cost
There are still several spaces for rent in the building. The Lunenburg Academy of Music Performance was one of the first tenants to move in three years ago. The group brings top performers from other parts of the world to Lunenburg to work with young musicians.
The non-profit music school is not in a financial position to help with the cost of maintaining the building, said general manager Susan Corkum-Greek. In December, the town announced an "enhanced sponsorship" to give the music school a break on its rent, Corkum-Greek said.
"We have paid over $100,000 in rent," she said. "So we're not living rent-free but we're also a startup and we're very importantly now at a point where our programs are catching worldwide attention."
As the town faces the big task of raising money and putting in place a strategic new business plan, the mayor remains confident in the strength of the application for federal and provincial money.
"It's knocking on doors in one area and if we are not successful there, we move onto the next," Bailey said. "So, the plan has to change as circumstances change and progress is made. So the plan isn't changing, we're adapting."