Mack Laing Heritage Society suggests interpretive centre could be up and running by January
Building on the success of other interpretive centres on the Island, the executive director of the Mack Laing Heritage Society presented Comox council Wednesday with more details of the proposed restoration of the ‘Baybrook’ house.
Situated at 70 Orchard Park Drive, Mack Laing’s house has been at the centre of discussion since June last year, as the Comox Valley Naturalists Society and Project Watershed asked council for a delay on demolition.
Built in 1922, Mack Laing resided in his first Comox house until 1949.
It was there where he wrote scientific articles, more than 1,000 journal articles and 14 books.
Council asked for an assessment to determine if the structures (including the main house), which were in sufficiently poor condition, were worth saving.
The report determined the cost of renovating and saving the building would exceed the cost of reconstruction, and the plan was to remove the structure and return the property to a natural, park-like state.
The groups enlisted a team of biologists, planners, engineers and historians to examine two homes: ‘Baybrook’ and ‘Shakesides.’
In their report, the committee determined due to flooding, ‘Shakesides’ is structurally unsound and cannot be salvaged in the long-term.
‘Baybrook’ meanwhile, was found to be structurally sound by a professional engineer and salvageable by a professional architect.
Director Loys Maingon told council the society was registered as a non-profit in May of this year, and is dedicated to seeing the home become an interpretive natural history centre, as per Laing’s will at no cost to the taxpayer.
“The project depends on harnessing nature education and conservation tourism opportunities in the Comox Valley,” he explained, and added they are modelling the idea on the Nature House at Swan Lake in Victoria and the Strathcona Wilderness Institute Centre at Paradise Meadows.
In consultation with an economist, the society determined that Baybrook would need an operational budget of $7,500 per year.
Recently, the society received a proposal to support a nature preschool, and along with potential funding through the Ministry of Children and Family Development and modelling Baybrook’s operations on Swan Lake’s educational programs, they estimate it should gross about $124,746 annually.
Maingon said they could access a further $100,000 in various funding, along with $73,000 left by Mack Laing’s will.
On Aug. 16, the Mack Laing Heritage Society held a fundraising dinner and auction, raising in excess of $7,000.
A local building firm has offered some in-kind work for the restoration, but Maingon stated the work has to be done during the slower months of their business cycle, between Oct. 15 and Jan.1.
“That could put us at an opening date of the Comox Valley Nature Centre of Jan. 1,” he added.
Mayor Paul Ives inquired about neighbourhood issues such as parking and parents dropping their kids at the pre-school.
Maingon explained there has been consultation with neighbours, and added preschool would be for 15 students for a limited time of the week.
Ives also pointed out some legal speed bumps of Laing’s will, as his will deals with the house he owned prior to his death.
“To access those funds would require some legal wrangling that could be somewhat complicated,” explained Richard Kanigan, the Town’s chief administrative officer. “I’m not sure how long that will take.”
Ives asked Maingon if the society would be able to proceed if there was a delay.
“That’s a very good question; it’s something we’re going to have to work out.”