Council has authorized municipal staff to put forward an expression of interest in acquiring Pinecrest Memorial Elementary School.
The motion received majority support after being put on the floor by councillor Lenny Epstein. Since the municipality has an opportunity to negotiate for the purchase of the property before it goes to public sale, he said it was a chance to explore the site for potential affordable housing initiatives.
Council’s decision followed a deputation from Joy Vervoort who was representing the LoveSong Seniors Co-Housing Initiative, a project initiated by members of Bloomfield’s Emmanuel Baptist Church. The group has identified the site as a potential home for the project.
“Given our crisis with affordability and the creative ideas that have been brought forward by the LoveSong group, it makes sense for us to at least try to work something out so that we have some control over the land and will have some development control going forward,” Epstein said.
With the municipality involved, he said councillors can have some say in whatever happens with the land and will be able to ensure it is in the best interest of the community.
“Taxpayers paid for that property through education taxes and provincial taxes for a number of years and putting it to best public use is something the municipality is very interested in seeing happen,” he said.
Council had received a report from staff on Tuesday evening indicating the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board (HPEDSB) has reached out to the municipality regarding the property as required by ministry policy when considering sale of a property.
The school board declared the 46,000-square-foot facility, located on Corey Street in Bloomfield, surplus to its needs on Oct. 23 this year. The building sits on a 20-acre parcel. The staff report says various public sector agencies — including the County — have first right of refusal and could express an interest in acquiring the property before it is offered on the open market. The deadline for the expressions of interest from the public sector is Jan. 23, 2018. In the event an eligible agency expresses interest before then, the window would be extended by 90 days to allow for negotiations and finalization of an agreement to acquire the property.
Epstein said the site presents a number of possibilities.
“It’s a very large property and there are opportunities for the municipality to determine the best land use,” he said.
He said there’s no guarantee the municipality will be successful but, if it were, there would be plenty of opportunities for a mix of uses on such a large property.
“It could include working with community groups around our challenge with affordable housing but, in terms of the details of how it would all roll out, the first thing we need to do is negotiate with the school board which will be a process unto itself,” he said.
The report presented two options to council: Either pass on submitting an expression of interest or authorize staff to express interest in the property, thereby extending the process 90 days. The report says expressing an interest would allow the municipality to begin negotiating with the school board to acquire the 20-acre parcel. It says since it’s a large piece of land, the municipality could determine future use of the property and could possibly divide the land and rezone it for future development opportunities. Additionally, it says the municipality could work with interested local parties to determine if they could repurchase the property from the municipality.
Filing an interest doesn’t commit the municipality to purchase the land, but the report says filing an expression of interest does open the door to potential future costs.
Vervoort said the LoveSong group supports a municipal bid for the property, which could open the door to future collaboration.
“This would allow us to have time to investigate and to negotiate a potential partnership with the municipality to acquire Pinecrest school for the purpose of building a seniors affordable housing complex and complementary community hub,” she said.
She said the group’s vision would be to create an environment that encourages and supports seniors to live independently in the community and celebrate their knowledge and skills through active participation with their neighbours. She said the group is in the process of developing a business plan to support the vision and intends to share it with the municipality in January.
At the start of this year, the HPEDSB conducted an accommodation review process in Prince Edward County to investigate current needs and future infrastructure requirements. The initial recommendation included the closure of four local elementary schools, Pinecrest among them. The school officially closed in June.
The report says the province’s process for disposal requires the board to solicit interest from a designated list of 19 public sector organizations. Those organizations include the County, Loyalist College, Queen’s University and Prince Edward-Lennox and Addington Social Services.
The report says the board believes there are a number of groups interested in purchasing the property.
The LoveSong group previously filed an expression of interest. Their proposal would see the site renovated to accommodate 50 affordable units for seniors. However, the report says the group was declined by the board as it had no standing as a public sector agency under the initial first right of refusal period.