Observations while volunteering our time at Eesti Maja (42)
Eestlased Kanadas 20 Mar 2017  EWR
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For the past decade, Eesti Maja Juhatus sought a strategic alliance that they said was critical to the future viability of our community home. In the interim, spending as little as possible and performing minimal maintenance, marketing efforts fell to the wayside and income opportunities suffered. Last October, the community was told that the third development arrangement had failed. Meanwhile, dozens of volunteers took the initiative to start sprucing up the House, project by project. Users, both Esto and non-Esto, were polled for their thoughts and suggestions, and others offered their expertise (at no cost to Eesti Maja) to identify areas that provided the biggest and most noticeable benefits.

The structure of the building is sound. We can do what is needed. With volunteer fundraising a new steam boiler, which has been going for over fifty years and is working with many other newer HVAC systems that currently service the building, could be replaced. The roof has been patched as a bandaid solution, but hasn't been replaced for decades and continues to leak. It continues to be an area of focused efforts. Finally, just in the past year, a maintenance manager has started to assess the building, and is fixing priority items. Yes we have a heritage building at the core; it needs attention, but so does the proposed facility currently being discussed.

Even in its current state, Eesti Maja is covering its costs (not including development consultant fees and other "re-development" expenses) with many non-Esto users, who pay rents and subsidize Esto users and activities. Of course, Eesti Maja is grateful to the permanent Esto users including Eesti Pank and Heinsoo Insurance, who continue to pay regular rent. The halls are rented regularly to a myriad of other cultural groups and organizations. Just to name a few, the Royal Conservatory of Music, Elections Canada, theatre auditions, ballroom dance rehearsals and Dance Café events, concerts, fundraisers, such as the recent Seeds for Africa event, the Vinyl Record Show, summer theatre camp, pilates, parties and performances have provided valuable income. Even Ed Mirvish Productions has rented the space. These users marvel at the acoustics and mid-century modern architecture (which is currently a popular vintage theme) of the Grand Hall. The Crystal Hall is appreciated for its high ceilings and wood floors while the Gallery Hall is used for art exhibits, yoga and business meetings. These spaces are multi-purpose and rented alone or as overflow space for bigger events. The Spirit of Math and Montessori Schools utilize all of the classrooms and are expanding. All these users love the building and the recent improvements.

Users we've spoken to see nearby highways, free onsite parking, access to non-metered street parking, walking distance to the subway and a facility located in a safe and quiet residential area free from traffic chaos, rowdy bar hopping partiers and inner-city issues as big plusses. For 3 generations, we have let our kids joyfully roam the house without worry.

What's more exciting is the recent growth of Esto community users. Lasteaed is growing with 70 kids enrolled, suggesting a bona-fide baby boom. The Pensionäride Klubi has been re-activated with renewed energy and participation. Eesti Kool, including its adult students, uses all corners of the building. Recently Koolikoor held a successful fundraiser event in the Grand Hall for its upcoming trip to the Song Festival in Eesti. Kungla, Meeskoor, Estonia Koor, Etnograafia Ring, Yoga, Lasketiir, Skaudid and Hundud all continue regular use of the facilities. Gaidid and Hellakesed (there are close to 25 hellakesed now) hold their meetings across the street at the Baptisti Kirik, because on Saturday mornings, the Eesti Maja is full of Esto users. The Noorteruum is full of symbolism and history of the Estonian Scout and Guide movement in Canada. The lasketiir is a treasure in itself, never to be duplicated. Recently its grateful community of users made improvements to these facilities. Overall, more than 31,000 square feet are utilized by permanent Esto users as well as Esto groups and users.

The Friends' Café has also brought many happy customers to Eesti Maja. The AKEN basaar was a smash hit and will continue its annual fundraising event here. With the variety of reconfigurable spaces adapting to changing user needs, Eesti Maja continues to be a cherished and sacred space for our community.

A new and energetic workforce who invest their efforts planning, painting, repairing, and installing, see the potential of the building working for our community now and in the future. Organized ‘talgud’ have given many a reason to return to the community to give back. Many donors have responded generously by opening their wallets, because they love the building too.

The Eesti Maja has a great business model to sustain a resurgent Esto cultural community with external renters. It has sustained a community thus far, and now there is new energy for continued sustainability. We owe it to ourselves to service a building that has serviced us so well. Efforts need to help pay down the debt incurred during the "re-development" activities, which is Eesti Maja's only significant debt. But with increased external rentals and by taking advantage of available grants and programs, the building can be maintained, expanded and sustained for generations to come.

Eesti Maja Talgulised
 
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