All options remain on the table for Woodchester Villa.
While Town staff don’t have any exact timeline for a decision on the future use of the 135-year-old building, they say they expect to make recommendations to Town council by late 2017 or early 2018.
“Council wants to make sure they get it right,” says Randy Mattice, the Town’s manager of economic development. “That’s the main thing, but buildings to me are living, breathing entities and the more it sits vacant, the quicker it tends to deteriorate.”
The future of Woodchester Villa has been debated for more than eight years – ever since the facility (then used as a museum) was shuttered to the public in 2009 following a partial roof collapse.
One thing that appears to be nearly certain, according to Mattice, is that Woodchester Villa will eventually serve as some type of multi-use facility.
“It won’t be strictly one thing and that’s it,” says Mattice. “I think it will be a combination of uses to take advantage of the property. By having multiple uses you work out some of the limitations of the property as well. It was built as a house and it has very small, modular rooms so you sort of have to deal with that – with the understanding that you have an asset on the grounds.”
The eight-sided Woodchester Villa was built in 1882 by Henry J. Bird – the owner of a woollen will and one of Bracebridge’s founding citizens. It was the first home in the area to have electric lighting, and also featured indoor plumbing, forced air heating, ventilation ducts, a dumb waiter and a speaking tube.
In 1977, the Bracebridge Rotary Club bought the house from descendants of Henry Bird and it was used as a local museum for years. However, it slowly fell into a state of disrepair over the following decades, to the point where it was closed in 2009 following a partial roof collapse due to snow load.
Since then nearly $1 million has been invested in a restoration project of the building included work on the foundation walls, stucco walls, roof, exterior decks and balconies, sun porch, mould remediation and some landscaping work.
The future of the building has been debated at length by council and by members of the public, during both public meetings and focus groups – which will continue to meet this fall.
“That group’s been tasked with reaching out and figuring out what sort of plan should be done for Woodchester Villa,” says Mattice. “We’d like to do a couple more focus groups with some community stakeholders and then the next step is for the working group to come up with a plan of action and bring it forward to council.”
Mattice says nothing is off the table when it comes to future uses.
“We’re willing to hear any new or innovative idea for Woodchester Villa,” he says. “We haven’t nixed anything.”
Mattice says there is funding set aside under the annual municipal budget to ensure the upkeep of the building but everyone involved knows there is an impetus to move forward in a timely manner.
“We’re still working away and it is on council’s radar. They want to get it right but they know there’s a sense of urgency out there.”