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LoveSong shares community housing vision for former Pinecrest School

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
A full house turned out to Bloomfield Town Hall Tuesday night to hear about a potential redevelopment of the former Pinecrest Memorial Elementary School site into an affordable housing and community hub for seniors.

LoveSong Seniors Housing and Community Hub held its first public meeting to gauge interest on its proposal, to hear ideas, opposition and to answer residents’ questions. The Emmanuel Baptist Church Affordable Seniors Co-Housing Committee, is a not-for-profit organization, initiated under the leadership of Ken How to investigate and identify affordable housing options for the seniors in Prince Edward County.

Ken How

“It has been at least five years that we have been in the process of toying with this idea and we’ve been attracted by a number of facilities most of which have been out of reach,” said How. “Providing affordable housing in Canada is tough. We are so fortunate to have the municipality, the mayor and council be so supportive.”

A short video presentation followed How’s introductory remarks highlighting LoveSong’s vision. Its hope is to provide affordable and sustainable housing for seniors within a repurposed building, allowing for 50 units.

“The question on people’s minds is what is co-housing?” said project member Joy Vervoort.

Put simply, co-housing “is about sharing your community with your neighbours – neighbours you care about and who care about you. It’s about sharing your knowledge and your skills with your neighbours.”

Joy Vervoort

“We have seniors in this community with many skills who are very talented. It’s about giving seniors a purpose and to be able to share those skills and continuing to contribute to the community is a wonderful idea,” said Vervoort.

LoveSong is co-housing. It is not a retirement home, it is not a long-term care home and it is not a nursing home.

“It is a community where people live in an individual private space, they have their own space,” said Vervoort. “It will be small [400 to 450 square feet], but will accommodate a bed and sitting area, a kitchenette and a full bathroom.”

The concept shows kitchenettes will house a small fridge, a kitchen sink and a microwave, but no oven. Shared space for the community would include a larger kitchen that could be shared, a dining area, lounge area and laundry facilities.

Pinecrest School has 46,000 square feet of space in three wings.

“Those wings have classrooms that can easily be converted into housing units. We intend to retain the corridor system and soften the interior appearance with library shelving, an internet station and so on,” said Vervoort. “The centre part of the school which currently houses the auditorium, staff room, office, gymnasium and library will be modified somewhat with the gym and auditorium providing exercise facilities or perhaps art shows or theatre, maybe a movie theatre or to hold weddings. The other rooms can be converted into craft rooms or meeting rooms. There’s a variety of uses.”

“About a year ago, How made a deputation to council,” said Vervoort. “At that time we didn’t have a location in mind, but we had a vision to get approval in principle from the County to help us move forward with a seed funding application with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). We got approval and we have letters of support from the mayor and local council. From here, we spent months doing research and investigation into affordable housing for local seniors, and social isolation, with a number of site visits.”

Vervoort said the group understood how difficult it is for the community to lose a valuable school that meant a lot to people, “but we wanted to make an opportunity out of this to turn something bad into something good and we think Pinecrest is a potential solution for the location we were looking for LoveSong, so we decided to develop our concept around Pinecrest.”

LoveSong Housing met with local service support organizations including the Victorian Order of Nurses, The Prince Edward County Community Care for Seniors Association, Community Living Prince Edward, Hospice Prince Edward, Prince Edward Family Health Team and the South East Local Health Integration Network.

“All of these groups provide help to seniors and we wanted to know if they would be interested and they were all very excited and enthusiastic about what we were doing,” said Vervoort.

The school closed following an accommodation review process by the board. Students were moved to Queen Elizabeth School in Picton and when renovations are complete, they will move to PECI. In October 2017, the school board declared Pinecrest surplus.

The process for disposal requires the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board to solicit interest from a designated list of public sector organizations prior to making it available for public sale. Expressions of interest by Jan. 23, 2018 are followed by a further 90-day period to formalize and accept an offer to purchase. Council agreed to file an expression of interest in December.

“To the best of our knowledge as of last week, no one else has expressed an interest in the property,” said Vervoort.

“We intend to go back to council on Jan. 25 and ask for approval to partner with us to purchase the school. We see that partnership as being solely for the purpose of acquisition of the property, rezoning, developmental approval and to cover development fees. We are not looking to partner with the County in building LoveSong or to operate it afterward.”

Vervoort said the project will bring benefits to the community.

“First of all, we are adding affordable housing for seniors. It allows seniors to continue to live independently for as long as possible. We want people to age in the community and have the best quality of life they can.”

She also noted social isolation is one of the biggest risk factors for dying.

“It’s a bigger risk factor than cancer, diabetes, heart disease and smoking. The idea and part of the concept here is to remove social isolation and to bring people into the community where neighbours are looking after each other, neighbour after neighbour.”

Vervoort said there will be jobs created – construction jobs and spin-off jobs with restaurants and shops. “CMHC says that for every dollar spent on housing, there is $1.50 returned to the community,” she said.

LoveSong Housing is looking for input and support in the quest to partner with the County.

“We are looking for your expertise,” said Vervoort. “We have seven working groups that are looking at various aspects of the project and there is opportunity there for people in the community to join our team and help us in the process. We are looking to find out if there is any opposition or issues people have with the project,” said Vervoort.

LoveSong Housing is also looking for funding, donations and with help for fundraising.

“We hope that you will be interested in joining this really exciting project. We have the opportunity to make a huge difference in this community and we are excited about it,” concluded Vervoort.

An audience member questioned whether the 20-acre site could accommodate other buildings, or if part of the site could be sold.

How said they are trying to think ahead to phase two and phase three given the 20-acre parcel of land at Pinecrest, but added, “We must remember the facility there is on a septic system. There is town water, but there is a septic system and that is going to be a complex issue as far as developing additional usage of the property.”

The lack of affordable housing in Prince Edward County isn’t just about seniors, and given the extra space, the question of housing for others was raised.

“We have approached Habitat for Humanity to see if there might be interest on their part and are waiting to hear back from them,” Vervoort said.

Other questions ranged from timing and eligibility to fundraising and target profile.

“Anyone aged 65 and older would be welcome regardless of beliefs or religion,” said Vervoort, adding, “We don’t want just low income in there, we want a mix of people and a mix of abilities.”

Concerns were also voiced about demand exceeding supply as well as the criteria for eligibility.

One audience member asked how affordable housing is defined. Vervoort cited CMHCs definition of affordable housing as market rent or less (market rent established by CMHC) showing an example for market rent in the County for a one-bedroom apartment at $968 per month. She acknowledged that ‘affordable’ is different for everyone adding CMHC states no more than 30 per cent of income should be spent on housing.

How said it will cost “$100 per square foot to renovate the building compared with building a new house at $250 to $300 a square foot turnkey.”

“To build that same building on the other side of the road, to buy the land, to service it, everything would cost $30 to 40 million. The school was appraised for $400,000 as really there is not a lot of usage for it. You cut your costs down significantly when are you recycling and repurposing a structure to make it useful to your specific purpose.”

LoveSong’s estimate to repurpose is $6.3 million.

Concerns were also raised about Bloomfield’s lack of a grocery store, shops geared mostly to tourists, limited sidewalks and its lack of parks.

“If Pinecrest doesn’t happen, we will still be going ahead with the project, but we will find another location,” said Vervoort.

LoveSong’s next step is a deputation to council on Jan. 25.

For further information about the LoveSong Seniors Housing and Community Hub, visit lovesonghousing.org

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  1. Gary Mooney says:

    I admire and appreciate the motivation of the group proposing the conversion of Pinecrest school to affordable seniors housing. However, I agree with Chuck that Bloomfield is not a good location, due to the lack of shops and services there.

    It’s not good enough just to provide housing. Seniors need access to walkable shops and services, and there is little in Bloomfield to meet their needs. The only suitable locations are Picton and Wellington.

  2. Fred says:

    I have to agree that Bloomfield has very little to offer seniors. They require daily life supports without having to travel to Picton to acquire those.

  3. Ann Trick says:

    I think the Pinecrest location sounds ideal, It very well may breath new life into the village of Bloomfield. I spent many years camping on Weller’s Bay in my youth, and always enjoyed time spent in Bloomfield. It would be a bonus to country and city folk to be able to have community living in such an ideal setting. If you build it they will come, especially with our ageing population. Along with government grants and support there are many fund raising incentives the community can undertake to ensure this location stays a viable option. Great choice!

  4. Chuck says:

    Bloomfield seems like a very poor location as others have mentioned. No grocery store, pharmacy, bank or any cost efficient reasonable shopping outlets. Isolation from a feeling of community as well. Queen Elizabeth school would be a much better choice.

  5. Nicole says:

    Queen Elizabeth School in Picton is supposed to also be losing soon, and would likely be a better location for this project. Town sewer and water, access to shops and restaurants, sidewalks, and right in the heart of the community. I’ve always thought that repurposing an old school for affordable living is a wonderful idea, and hope they can accomplish this.

  6. Bob Burkinshaw says:

    I know for a fact that the group has looked at several sites in Picton and elsewhere and has always run into significant roadblocks. The Pinecrest school was not even being considered for closure when Ken How and others began working on this project and were looking hard all over for the right building. The fact that Pinecrest is across from the church is interesting but was not the original intention.

  7. Dennis Fox says:

    I admire the determination and vision of LoveSong, but after reading this article I still have no idea of where the money will come from. Converting a classroom onto a housing unit is not a simple project, nor will it be cheap – running water, sewer(or septic) and increased electrical to every classroom will be very expensive. I know our municipality of only 2500 needs housing,but our small tax base is a challenge- where will the money come from?

  8. Rob says:

    I believe this is a great idea and way to help those in our community who are needing this. I totally believe in the premise of what the organization is trying to achieve here. However there are a few things that need to be thought about more here before this happens.

    John Davies brought up several good points about the lack of resources and those wicked winds that blow through that isolated area. I attended that school and lived close by and know first hand all about those issues. The idea to do this type of project is perfect in a closed facility like this, however, I think there is a better option to look at.

    If the Board of Education keeps with their current plan and closes Queen Elizabeth in Picton later this year, I think that facility would be a more ideal location for seniors and this type of project. There is a closer link to the community with most daily functions like shopping and other activities that are within walking distance. The Pinecrest option, I feel, isolates them even more.

    This is my 2 cents here on this and I am sure not everyone will see it the same and that’s fine. I just don’t think that this is a totally perfect long-term plan.

  9. sue says:

    Finally getting it right. Innovation towards a worthwhile campaign, versus letting it sit vacant, rot and waste on the landscape. I applause all those who work to get this off the ground.

  10. Snowman says:

    Wonderful idea. The energy and enthusiasm that Ken How and
    Lovesong bring to the table will ensure success.
    Great that they are turning a negative into something positive. Some of Pinecrest’s first students will be turning 65 years old in a couple of years. Ironic to think that some of them might come back to live there!

  11. John Davies says:

    Septic and lack of resources in Bloomfield, add on the school is isolated and wicked winds blow through there all year long should be reason enough to focus on Picton or Wellington as hubs for seniors. Bloomfield is a tourist drop in. Main street houses are now B&B’s and rentals, the community is gone. I think this is only really being pushed by this group because of it’s location to the church and all the wonderful parking spaces it will inherit if it goes through.

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