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St. Pat’s gets a reprieve 

It’s not over yet for the community groups hoping to move into the former school

St. Patrick's-Alexandra's rollercoaster ride isn't done yet. In a surprise move Tuesday evening, council awarded the North Central Community Council another shot at the former school site. After voting down staff's recommendation against selling the property to the NCCC, Jennifer Watts put and passed a motion directing staff to write a report considering the sale of the former school site to the group.

After mayor Mike Savage announced the motion was carried, Mi'kmaq Native Friendship Centre director Pam Glode-Desrochers hugged reverend Rhonda Britton and the two women smiled. "It feels really good," Glode-Desrochers said. "Twelve years in the making."

Actually, it's been longer. Due to space constraints, the MNFC has been searching for a new home since 1995. In the early 2000s the hunt became more urgent when an architect's report noted asbestos in the centre's basement along with a sketchy fire escape and mounting upkeep costs.

If all goes well, the MNFC could have new repair costs to deal with. Conditional on the results of JONO Developments' appeal of the Supreme Court decision that made HRM reverse the sale of St. Patrick's-Alexandra last year, the centre along with the NCCC could be moving into the old school building in a couple years. The results of the appeal are expected by the end of the summer, however the NCCC's request for a development agreement would take longer.

While the school sits in limbo, the municipality is paying those repair costs. Upkeep, utilities and security cost the city $340,468 in the last year alone. Altogether, including the cost of the school's legal battle, St. Pat's-Alexandra has cost HRM just shy of $1 million to date.

Those costs played into staff's recommendation against selling the school to the NCCC. Councillor Linda Mosher emphasized the financial implications in the staff report. "We're not elected to be popular," she said, "we're elected to be fiscally responsible."

Mayor Savage, who stepped down momentarily as chair, spoke to council's independence from staff. Voting against the motion doesn't mean council disbelieves staff, he said, and voting in favour of the motion doesn't mean council dislikes the community. "I will vote against the staff report," he concluded.

The decision keeps the NCCC in the race for now. The group wants to rent out the former school building in the short term as a community hub, and in the long term they aim to build a mix of market rate and affordable housing on the property, financed by a $3.7 million loan from the province.

Glode-Desrochers was not expecting Tuesday's victory. "I thought for sure they were going to defeat it and accept the staff report," she said. "This is really big for us."

For the NCCC to buy the property, two-thirds of council will need to vote in favour of their proposal. Tuesday night's vote on Watts' motion was 10 to seven. "Need to bring over [two] more," councillor Waye Mason tweeted after the meeting. "Think we can do it."

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