Beginning on Jan. 1 a new board of management for McLean Mill will take over direction of the mill from the Western Vancouver Island Industrial Heritage Society (IHS).
With the new board, Port Alberni mayor Mike Ruttan said he’s not sure what will change but that it’s up to the new board to establish that vision and next steps.
“It will certainly involve some refocusing, some expansion of opportunities and some different kinds of marketing, I’d expect,” Ruttan said.
Being a National Historic Site, Ruttan said nothing physically can change at McLean Mill because the city has an agreement to preserve it until a time between 2028 and 2035.
The visitors’ centre at the entrance to the mill is not included under that agreement.
Ruttan said the new management board will work in partnership with the IHS.
“They will contract the IHS to provide them with services. As a city we will expect them to work together but one is not supervisory over the other,” Ruttan said.
Ruttan said the new board of management has been left out of the mill’s 2016 operating decisions because the city’s contract was with the IHS
“Our expectation was that the two would work together in consultation and it didn’t for various reasons,”Ruttan said. “It’s a challenge of having two volunteer boards with overlapping responsibilities and changing responsibilities.”
A majority of the IHS’ financial shortfall was due to a deal with the seller of new kitchen equipment falling through; the kitchen was supposed to open at the mill and create revenue.
With no funds to go forward with the kitchen installation after the seller having backed out, the IHS was left with a financial shortfall.
“The contract for the new kitchen and the new equipment was signed by the IHS because they’re the only ones that had the authority to do that,” Ruttan said. “In the end the person that was going to do the installation wasn’t given a final contract… he didn’t ever come to that final agreement with the IHS and so they couldn’t proceed.”
Ruttan said after an inspection with a provincial health authority the new kitchen area was deemed unacceptable for operations.
“Nobody in the province of B.C. can run a commercial kitchen if it hasn’t been fully approved by the provincial health inspector,” Ruttan said. “[The IHS] don’t have the funds to finish the job so a decision is going to have to be made but it hasn’t been yet.”
Ken Rutherford, acting manager at McLean Mill, said the health inspections determined the kitchen was unacceptable for operations because the floor was unfinished and plumbing wasn’t installed.
He said the idea for a new restaurant at the mill was suggested by a member of the McLean Mill advisory committee with expectations it would bring the mill more profit. A member of the board of management suggested a restaurant owner move his recently closed business to the mill site for operations.
“We signed the contract based on the information we were given that the restaurant was going to be a done deal…the kitchen would be up and running and it would make revenue,” Rutherford said.
“When that didn’t happen we tried to make it work by summertime but it was just too big of a job for the small amount of money we had available for us.”
One of the tasks the board of management has taken on is the formation of a McLean Mill society, which is required as a legal entity to accept funds and sign contracts. A change to the BC Societies Act means that the new society cannot be formed until after Nov. 28, therefore the IHS have had no negotiations with the new board as far as how they will operate together.