Vittoria’s beleaguered town hall off the chopping block — for now

The people of Vittoria have six months to save their village’s historic town hall.

After reviewing the state of the 145-year-old building, which has been closed since 2019 and needs at least $1 million in repairs to address “structural integrity issues,” municipal staff in Norfolk County recommended council sell the venerable hall to a local non-profit for one dollar.

Were no buyers to be found, the provincially designated heritage building and adjoining parkland would go on the open market. The combined property has been appraised at $520,000, according to the staff report that came to council on Tuesday.

Councillors voted to put off the decision until next year after residents asked for time to put together a business plan to buy the hall and tackle the renovations.

“We would like at least six months,” said Joan Norman of the Vittoria and District Foundation, a local non-profit that has taken charge of the effort to preserve Vittoria’s historic central square, which includes the town hall.

Norman said the foundation’s charter prevents the group from purchasing the building, but members will explore forming a separate legal entity that can.

“If we have to buy it, we have to buy it. But we need time to organize,” she said.

The foundation wanted the county to retain ownership of the hall and lease it to the group to operate, with financial backing from Norfolk. But staff did not endorse that option, citing the hefty repair bill, dwindling usage of the hall as a meeting place prior to its closure, and the existence of a county-run community centre in Vittoria that is itself rarely booked.

Chief administrative officer Al Meneses told council the municipality is “trying to walk a delicate balance” between selling surplus properties to bolster Norfolk’s financial position and entering into partnerships with local groups to keep venerable community institutions like the town hall alive.

Some two dozen Vittoria-area residents came to council in support of the hall staying open.

Allan Leighton of the Vittoria Town Square Preservation Society alleged the county is to blame for the hall’s deterioration.

“Unfortunately, the county did not keep it in good shape, and now we’re at the point where it needs a lot more work,” Leighton told councillors.

“That’s what we’re prepared to do.”

Mayor Amy Martin said she was surprised to hear Leighton say the county had not been forthcoming with information about the hall, pointing to several public meetings — including one that drew nearly 300 people to Vittoria’s community centre in November — and more recent sit-downs between county staff, councillors and foundation members.

“I’m kind of caught off-guard here, because I thought we were working together,” Martin said. “There’s obviously been a disconnect.”

Council instructed staff to explore options for selling the hall — including, but not limited to, a proposal from the foundation — and report back in January

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator