ARICHAT: Three years after it officially ended its life as a house of worship, the former St. John’s Anglican Church building is now in the hands of a community group hoping to refurbish the structure as a performing arts venue.

The Friends of St. John’s Arichat Society have completed the formal transfer of ownership from the Strait-Chedabucto Parish Council and the Anglican Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, which officially deconsecrated the 122-year-old Arichat building in the summer of 2014. The community group paid diocesan officials $1 last week, following the completion of the Eastern District Planning Commission’s official subdivision of the property, which will also keep a nearby Anglican cemetery under the operation of the parish and the diocese.

Speaking to The Reporter on August 1, the chair of The Friends of St. John’s Arichat Society, Anne Leavitt, thanked those who have assisted with the payment of an estimated $10,000 in legal and surveying costs incurred by the organization.

“If we hadn’t been able to do that, of course, we couldn’t have bought the property,” Leavitt suggested.

“But more importantly, it says how much that space means to people. It means a great deal as a landmark, as a piece of municipal heritage, and as a place where lots of families have connections. Certainly, nobody I’ve talked to in Arichat has been willing to see it disintegrate or be torn down.”

When parish officials recommended to the diocese that the church shut down in early 2014, they cited the high cost of addressing issues such as mould build-up, dry rot, water draining concerns, broken siding and an unsafe wheelchair ramp. Although Leavitt suggested it would be “irresponsible” for her group to publicize cost estimates for such repairs, she pointed out that her group has already conducted minor upgrades on the property over the past year, and remained optimistic about the size of the task that now faces them.

“Our first priority is going to be to address the mould issue, and it’s confined to the basement and confined to limited parts of the basement, so we don’t anticipate that this is going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or anything,” she predicted.

“Then, of course, we’ll have to rebuild that space, which is not a bad thing – it would be nice, for example, to make the washroom more accessible to people…As soon as that’s done, we can open the space to the public. Everything else in the building is totally fine.”

In the meantime, The Friends of St. John’s Arichat Society is investigating the parameters of having the former church building declared a Nova Scotia heritage property, and preparing for such developments as a direct community mail-out to bring new financial contributors on board during the formal renovation process.

“We’re pretty optimistic about that,” Leavitt declared.

“I think we’ll get a lot of people step up to the plate who have been, in some cases – and rightfully so – waiting to see what has happened. So that will be happening soon.”