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North Sydney centre for adults with disabilities recovering from firebombing

Haley Street Adult Services Centre executive director Debra MacLean points to the window someone smashed before throwing a Molotov cocktail into Martell Hall. The ensuing fire destroyed the newly renovated building where adults with a wide range of disabilities learned vocational and social skills. MacLean is waiting to hear if the provincial government will fund a new $1.2-million building on another section of the property on Haley Street in North Sydney.
Haley Street Adult Services Centre executive director Debra MacLean points to the window someone smashed before throwing a Molotov cocktail into Martell Hall. The ensuing fire destroyed the newly renovated building where adults with a wide range of disabilities learned vocational and social skills. MacLean is waiting to hear if the provincial government will fund a new $1.2-million building on another section of the property on Haley Street in North Sydney. - Chris Connors
NORTH SYDNEY, N.S. —

It’s been three months since someone threw a Molotov cocktail through a window at Martell Hall but the smell of smoke fills the air almost immediately as Richard MacDonald and Richie Herridge unscrew and remove the plywood covering the door.

The men are participants in the woodworking program at Haley Street Adult Services Centre, a non-profit organization that helps 78 adults with a wide range of disabilities learn vocational and social skills. Standing with their cordless drills by their sides, for the first time they take in the damage to the outbuilding where other clients learned domestic and self-help skills.

IT’S TOAST

The outside of Martell Hall at Haley Street Adult Services Centre in North Sydney.
The outside of Martell Hall at Haley Street Adult Services Centre in North Sydney.

“Holy mackerel! It’s gone,” exclaims Herridge.

“Some bonehead did that,” offers MacDonald.

Standing nearby, Haley Street executive director Debra MacLean nods in agreement.

“It’s pretty bad, isn’t it guys?” she says, stepping over the broken glass that’s still strewn about the doorway from when firefighters had to break a window in order to enter the building.

As Herridge and MacDonald make their way back to the woodshop, MacLean recalls the first time she stepped inside the building after the fire, which took place July 27 at about 3 a.m. Firefighters from the North Sydney Volunteer Fire Department extinguished the fire in about 15 minutes and MacLean, who was on vacation in New York City at the time, wasn’t sure what to expect.

“From the exterior it only looks like there’s a window out and some melting in the soffit and facia, but the interior is gone,” she says.

Peter Eyking
Peter Eyking

“I kept saying ‘Gee, it can’t be that bad.’ And then you walk in and go ‘Oh my God, it’s worse than I ever could have imagined.’ It’s toast.”

To make matters worse, Martell Hall had recently undergone extensive renovations, thanks to $800,000 the centre received as the charitable beneficiary of a chase the ace fundraiser. They were also about to host a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new state-of-the-art snoezelen sensory room inside that one of their clients, Peter Eyking, had personally donated $10,000 toward.

“Not nice,” Eyking, who comes from a well-known local farming family, replies when asked how he felt when he’d heard about the fire.

“Some bad person did that. He should be in jail. Punished. Should have to work. Should be put on the farm to work for it.”

THINKING BIG

MacLean figures replacing Martell Hall, including specialized equipment like a motorized lift system for clients in wheelchairs, would cost about $350,000. Their insurance company can only offer about $222,000 because the building was constructed from four portable classroom trailers.

However, MacLean doesn’t just want to rebuild Martell Hall. She’s asked the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services to fund a brand-new $1.2-million building on another section of the property on Haley Street in North Sydney that would allow them to accommodate another 20 participants.

Their request is currently awaiting government approval, and MacLean is optimistic.

“The need for support for individuals who require some assistance in their daily living is not getting smaller,” she says. “We need to look at the future. We’ve never gone to government to ask for this kind of amount — we wouldn’t be doing it now if we didn’t need it.”


THEN AND NOW

  • Haley Street Adult Services Centre started in 1979 with three staff, 15 participants and a budget of $25,000
  • Today the centre has 38 staff, 78 participants and a $1.3-million budget

LIPSTICK ON A PIG

One thing Haley Street Adult Services desperately needs right now is space.

This nook is where the photocopier used to be at Haley Street Adult Services Centre. It has been converted into a “quiet place” where participants at the overcrowded facility can go to be alone.
This nook is where the photocopier used to be at Haley Street Adult Services Centre. It has been converted into a “quiet place” where participants at the overcrowded facility can go to be alone.

The loss of 1,500 square feet is abundantly clear as you walk through the main building, which used to be an elementary school, on a typical weekday afternoon. On most days about 35 people take part in programs there, and the addition of 20 people from Martell Hall has meant a lot of concessions. Their program co-ordinator’s office is now literally located in a closet. Another closet has been converted into a space where a participant who often needs to play extremely loud music to calm down can retreat. A nook where the photocopier used to be is now a curtained-off “quiet place,” complete with a chair and soft pillows.

“We’re jammed. There’s no nice way to say it,” says MacLean.

“I have a very crude way of saying it — it’s lipstick on a pig. That’s basically what it feels like.”

FLEA MARKET

Haley Street Adult Services Centre also operates several social enterprises where participants learn valuable skills. There are two thrift stores — Nora’s New to You in nearby Sydney Mines and ReFind at the North Sydney Mall — as well as the woodworking department where clients make kindling, surveying stakes, garbage bins and other items.

With the potential for a major construction project on the near horizon, MacLean says they are considering taking on their biggest project yet — operating a flea market. The owner of the Bargain Hunters Flea Market has recently said he will close after having trouble finding a suitable location. Sensing an opportunity, Haley Street Adult Services Centre staged a flea market recently at the North Sydney Mall. MacLean says it was a success, raising about $1,500 from the sales of products and table rentals.

“The flea market being gone now, there may be an opportunity for us to look at having a regular flea market at the mall,” she says. “Do we have the capacity to manage that? The way we work at Haley Street, someone comes in with an idea and then we say, ‘How can we make this happen?’”

They are also staging a live auction and silent auction at the North Sydney Firefighters Club on Saturday from 6-9 p.m. Tickets, $15, are available at ReFind, Nora’s, by contacting Haley Street Adult Services Centre on Facebook, or from any staff member.

‘WE’RE STRONG’

As devastating as the fire was, MacLean says one positive thing is how the participants and staff have rallied together.

“It has been really such a journey for us. Whenever you have a group that has a shared trauma — and this has been a trauma, we’ve been violated. Someone came in here with a Molotov cocktail and destroyed a program area. We’re all living in the reality of what that means. So we have a shared sense of fear and uncertainty, and that can be a unifying thing. What doesn’t break you makes you, and in many ways that’s where it is right now. We’re not going to let it take us down. We had one of our participants say, ‘People think because we’re disabled that they can get away with this stuff, and they don’t realize that we’re strong,’ and that’s exactly right.”

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