A council policy adopted in August 2000 outlines a process for how to handle surplus schools: community groups are to be offered the opportunity to put together, within 90 days, a proposal for the property, and only if council finds their proposal deficient is the school put on the open market for sale.
But in the case of St. Pat’s-Alexandra community groups were not given the opportunity to put together a proposal, and on December 13 of last year, council approved a sale to Jono Developments. The city won’t disclose the sale amount, but it is rumoured to be $5 million.
The community groups---the North End Community Health Clinic, the Mi’kmaq Friendship Centre and the newly formed Richard Preston Centre for Excellence---objected to the sale and, citing concerns about the policy, council voted January 10 to reverse the sale pending a staff report on the issue. That report was issued last Friday.
The report, say the groups, unfairly characterized the situation. For example, it assumed that the groups would have no money to maintain and operate the buildings, which the report said would cost the city $633,000 annually. “Six-hundred thousand dollars?” asked the NECHC’s Jane Maloney rhetorically. “We spend much more than that right now, on our own buildings.”
In fact, the groups collectively own three buildings on Gottingen Street and rent a fourth, and have a long history of sound, professional financial management, but councillors Tuesday suggested otherwise.
“If we go back and give 90 days to a group of volunteer organizations where--no disrespect, but not real business people---who will struggle to put together plans...are we giving them false hope?” said councillor Gloria McCluskey. “Maybe they get there and they still fail...How will make that make them feel?”
“It’s insulting to say I don’t have the business acumen,” said reverend Rhonda Britton of the Cornwallis Baptist Church, one of the organizers of the groups’ effort. “I had two business degrees before entering the seminary.” Representatives of the health clinic and friendship centre were likewise taken aback at the suggestion that their staff can’t properly manage their operations.
Council Tuesday refused to go back and offer the groups the opportunity to put a proposal together as per the policy, opting instead to scrap the policy and move ahead with the sale to Jono. Councillors voting for the sale were Blumenthal, Fisher, Hendsbee, Hum, Karsten, Kelly, McCluskey, Mosher, Smith, Streatch, Uteck, Walker and Wile.
At a meeting the community groups held last Saturday to discuss options, lawyer Ron Pink, who is representing the groups, said then that the effort would be to force council to abide by the 2000 policy. “If they don’t follow the policy Tuesday, we’ll sue them on Wednesday,” Pink said.
“That’s certainly on the table,” said Maloney after the council vote.
The sale to Jono won’t be finalized until council takes one last action next Tuesday. Presumably, if the community groups do take legal action, they’ll need to convince a court to stay the sale before next Tuesday; if not, it’s likely Jono will raze the school buildings at the earliest opportunity.