EMBRUN – The township of Russell’s politicians have voted unanimously to keep the Embrun Train Station and move forward with potential renovation inquiries.

“I would add a paragraph to the existing recommendation that council confirm the train station will remain within the township of Russell. I think that’s the first thing that this group is looking for, is confirmation that we are keeping this train station,” Mayor Pierre Leroux said, referring to the Train Station Committee. “As we all remember, there was a citizens group from North Stormont that was requesting that they could take ownership.”

The landmark building was discussed during the municipality’s Feb. 22 council meeting, which included a resolution from the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee (PRAC). Coun. Mike Tarnowski, who is the chair of PRAC, recommended that council agree to keep the train station in the municipality, that the unused 2021 funds set aside for the train station be transferred to 2022, and that council approve Phase 1 of the proposed plan using the transferred funds.

In addition to the resolution, a slide presentation from PRAC’s Jan. 31 meeting was included in the night’s agenda package. Train Station Committee president Israel Michaud, along with committee member Hélène Grandmaître, attended PRAC’s virtual session to provide an update and to present the three recommendations.

“They already have raised over $10,000 from the community towards this project,” Tarnowski said, referring to Michaud and his team. “It’s a really impressive community group that’s brought this together. They’ve got all kinds of support from the community, from local community businesses.”

Council took each recommendation one at a time beginning with keeping the train station, which was approved unanimously without much discussion. They then looked at the recommendation for transferring 2021’s train station funds to 2022 but the interim chief administrative officer Richard Godin said this was already being done, noting there was roughly $14,000 set aside for the building. The third recommendation, which was for council to approve Phase 1 work and to cover half the cost using the transferred funds, included a larger discussion.

It was noted that municipal staff would need to work with the group to ensure accurate estimates for work that meets the provincial standards. Director of Parks and Recreation Céline Guitard agreed, saying her team will work with the Train Station Committee. Further discussion revolved around the work items listed in Phase 1 of the project. Leroux questioned the plan to install outside lighting if the plan is to relocate the train station building to a different location.

“The want of having the lighting outside of it in Phase 1 is because we don’t have the timeline for Phase 2,” Tarnowski said. “So, the community group is going to work hard to get some funding to do Phase 2, which is putting it on a proper cement slab, hence required movement but it would be to put it close enough that any of the electrical that’s set up, all the wiring that would be on the actual building, would still be usable. So, it wouldn’t be a duplication of effort. This may happen in two years, three years down the road. That’s why we want to see the lighting done right away in this phase.”

Leroux then posed questions about Phase 2. He said it would help to know the end goal of the project.

“Perhaps consideration might be for a second amendment to give direction to the administration to work with the group to bring back a report to council on how to move forward with Phase 2,” he said.

Guitard suggested getting an assessment of the required work along with cost estimates. She said she’d hate to see money being spent and volunteers putting in hundreds of hours to then discover the project isn’t feasible. Tarnowski questioned why this point wasn’t raised during the PRAC meeting, adding that he doesn’t want to see the project getting stalled while they wait for another study. Guitard said an engineering study was already done. She said she’s referring to an updated needs’ assessment, as this hasn’t been done in roughly three years.

The Train Station Committee’s project proposal was broken down into two phases. In phase one, the plan is to keep the station, do repairs, and highlight the exterior. The group provided a cost breakdown for this phase amounting to roughly $11,555. Phase two focuses on structural repairs and interior use with an estimated price tag of roughly $57,200. Following phase two repairs, the committee noted several potential uses, such as an Embrun Museum, local farmers’ market, tourist centre, or possibly a revenue-generating commercial project.

In the end, council approved the first recommendation, which was to keep the train station in the township. The second recommendation to transfer funds from 2021 to 2022 didn’t require action as it’s in the process of being done.

The third recommendation, which was for council to approve Phase 1 and fund half the expense using the transferred funds, was amended. The new resolution, which was unanimously approved, called for Guitard and her team to work with the Train Station Committee to get an updated accurate assessment of what needs to be done, including estimated costs, and that council would agree to pay 50 per cent of the cost of Phase 1 to an upset limit of $6,000.