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County to buy former school; will seek expressions of interest to sell

APRIL 23 – Purchase approved by council.

APRIL 11 – The County plans to use interim money from its operating fund to purchase the former Queen Elizabeth school property in Picton before the June 10 deadline.

Councillors at Thursday’s Committee of the Whole meeting voted 9-5 in favour of the purchase, completion of due diligence work and asking staff to return with options involving third-party partnership.

Ratification by council comes to its April 23 regular meeting.

Plans for the building and land include the development of upward of 100 affordable housing units and a hub of community support services including child care.

“While there remain a number of unknowns that will need to be reviewed before a fulsome proposal for the future use of the site can be put forward by staff for council’s consideration, the property is at least as valuable as the amount the County has offered HPEDSB to purchase it,” stated Adam Goheen, Director of Housing, in his report.

The original vision for the property will need to be adjusted, he said, with time to engage with the private sector through expressions of interest.

That was not enough for councillors Chris Braney, Phil Prinzen, Roy Pennell, David Harrison and Corey Engelsdorfer who voted against moving forward – mostly stating reluctance to see the municipality possibly being stuck without a sale by year end and transferring the purchase price to future budgets/taxpayers.

Chief Administrative Officer Marcia Wallace made it clear the County can fund the $1,375,000 offer to purchase the 4.76 acre property at 35 Barker St., but cannot afford to buy and keep it. Because it is not a funded project, the funds would need to be replaced by the end of 2024, or future budgets will be impacted.

Goheen agreed movement forward must involve a public private partner, adding he would not name names, but stating he has met with a number of private investors from the County and farther afield.

Mayor Steve Ferguson reminded councillors of the many phone calls, emails and face-to-face conversations with ministries, two school boards, staff, the Prince Edward Lennox and Addington Social Services, council and MPP Todd Smith which helped navigate the purchase process over the past six years.

“It turned out to be a very complicated process made more complicated by a global pandemic,” added Ferguson. “But I think it’s fair to say that all those I mentioned recognize that this strategic location of QE was ideal to address some of the needs of those in our largest settlement area.

“Also on board in support of that acquisition are those organizations who offer services to those in need in our community and whose efforts target some of council’s strategic priorities – health care and food insecurity among them.”

The school closed in 2018 after 65 years. The Hastings Prince Edward District School Board had an offer to buy, but it become available again, after the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board buyers for St. Gregory Catholic Elementary School, received $8.7 million from Ontario government programs to build a new 354-pupil school on Talbot Street.

The County had also applied for acquisition in the first round the school was declared surplus, but the catholic school board ranks higher on the mandatory dispersal list. PELASS also ranks higher than the County, so agreed to partner in an expression of interest, and in this second bid, was the highest ranked submission.

The offer was contingent on funding and the HPEDSB has agreed to delay the process twice. In response to calls to appeal to the school board for more time, some councillors stated they felt the board would not, or should not, accept any further delay past the June 10 deadline.

CAO Wallace remined it was the second extension given, and pointed out that if the County chose to let the sale lapse, the school board could easily sell it at a higher value on the open market… “we can as well”.

Beginning to explore paths forward, Goheen told councillors staff came up with three related options.

“To further explore the viability of the options, and determine the level of potential interest from prospective private-party partners, a broad-scope expression of interest would be issued immediately,” said Goheen.

“The option ideas include a partnership with private interest, with focus on the hub concept; partnership with private interest with focus on housing and partnership with private interest in the entire site with the hub concept to be retained.”

The cost to complete due diligence work is estimated at $50,000 and is proposed to be funded from the operating budget. It is suggested this expenditure could be reimbursed through future private party investment in the project.

Goheen also recommends the mayor call a special meeting toward the end of May or early June for detailed consideration of the options, for re-development community partner selection committee recommendations for the community hub concept and Prince Edward County Affordable Housing Corporation recommendations for the development of the southwestern portion of the site.

The County learned in late February it was unsuccessful in its July 2023 application to the Federal Housing Accelerator Fund (HAF) for $14.2 million to move forward with a number of programs and initiatives related to affordable housing and community services – but its key project was the school.

Goheen’s report noted the denial of funding was unfortunate as CMHC staff had advised the County’s application was strong.

“No specific rationale was provided by CMHC about why our application was turned down, only that there was an abundance of applications and not enough funding to go around.

Another round of funding is possible.

The original $4 billion federal funding program was structured with two intake streams: one for small/rural/north/Indigenous communities and the other a large/urban stream for everybody with a population over 10,000.

The report stated the only small, predominantly rural municipalities in Ontario successful in receiving funding through the HAF in this stream were the municipality of Grenville (population about 18,000) and the township of Woolwich (population about 27,000).

Filed Under: Local News

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  1. Michelle says:

    Well they were never in the Housing business either so things change.

  2. Harry veenstra says:

    Didn’t think municipal government was in the real estate investment business

  3. Gary says:

    This is a smart purchase. If funding doesn’t arrive the property can be flipped for a very nice profit.

  4. SM says:

    The County just loaned $5million ‘spare cash’ to support two affordable housing projects that have not secured funding. Now they want to take another million and change to buy a building that at present they cannot afford to own. At the same time they hold a large number of properties that according to their consultant are beyond salvage…and for which they lack funding to repair. Enough is enough!

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