Some political science students at Cape Breton University are providing a beacon of hope to a small Cape Breton community trying to save its lighthouse.

They're working with the Gabarus Lightkeepers Society to preserve the 125-year-old structure.

Tim Menk, a member of the society, said it started three years ago when they approached professor Tom Urbaniak to ask for help.

The lighthouse was divested by the the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the community was facing a deadline to file an application under the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act.

"The amount of legwork that was done and the groundwork that was laid for this by the students was invaluable and the leadership that Tom Urbaniak provided was very important because none of us had done this before," said Menk.

"The students were learning. The community was learning at the same time. It brought together the generations and we're working towards a common goal and that's a really unusual and happy circumstance for us."

The students also came up with a business plan to help pay for maintenance to the structure, that could cost as much as $40,000 to $50,000, said Menk

"There are a lot of different avenues to look toward, including grants that come form the Nova Scotia Trust for preservation of lighthouses and there are some limited federal grants as well." 

'A great project'

Brett Booth, a third-year political science student at CBU, said they've been helping the community develop a website and come up with fundraising ideas, including a proposal to charge a fee to make people honourary lighthouse keepers for a day.

"It's a great project for our poly sci students because it deals with public policy and it also deals with different steps of the government, like having to get answers from the DFO and having to work and collaborate with every organization to make this project work."

Another student, Maureen Jobes, said she's learned some important lessons from working on the lighthouse project.

"For me it would definitely have to be how the collaboration with the residents of Gabarus and CBU worked so well together and coming up with ideas, how to make everything happen," said Jobes.

"A big part of what surprised me is how policies work."

Menk said he sees this partnership as a model that could work for other communities.

"The fact that a university group can sit down with whatever community that has a lighthouse issue that they want to resolve, is a model that could be transferred to any other community that was willing to engage with students."