Halifax council has rescinded its December 13 decision to sell the former St. Pat’s-Alexandra school on Maitland Street to developer Joe Metlege. The vote means the old school won’t be torn down and replaced with condos---at least, not yet. But the issue is by no means resolved.
North end community members were upset by the sale, and said that neighbourhood non-profit organizations like the Mi’kmaq Friendship Centre and the North End Community Health Clinic should have been given the opportunity to put forward proposals for the site before it was put on the open market. That view is supported by the “Policy and Procedures for the Disposal of Surplus Schools,” adopted by council in August of 2000; that policy document can be found at thecoast.ca/bites.
The vote to reverse the sale came at at the end of Tuesday night’s council meeting. After a working through an agenda full of other items, at 11pm the school issue came forward, with councillor Jennifer Watts moving for the reversal. Immediately, Richard Butts, the city’s chief bureaucrat, said council should go into secret session to get advice from the city’s legal team. This suggestion angered the gallery full of community members, who had waited patiently for five hours to witness how council would handle the issue.
Next, councillors and staffers played a ridiculous game of procedural chicanery too complex to relate in this space. We’ll have a longer write up at thecoast.ca, but the gist of it is that by nearly 1am it was plainly obvious that Butts, mayor Peter Kelly and city lawyer Mary Ann Donovan were attempting to avoid a public vote on reversing the sale, which was to be completed Friday. Even councillors like Tim Outhit and Reg Rankin, who had supported the sale in December, were too embarrassed to go along with the raw display of political manipulation intended to frustrate a community’s wishes.
For now, the December vote to sell the school is rescinded, but the issue will come back before council in coming weeks, accompanied by a staff report which will supposedly examine whether city procedures were violated. It’s unlikely city staff will fault itself, so council will be right back where it started in December. Conceivably, a majority of councillors could say the procedural issues have been dealt with, then vote again for the sale.
In short, the community gained a bit of time, but final disposition of the school site is still in limbo.