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Drive to turn former school into seniors’ housing is stalled

By Sharon Harrison
The transformation of the former Pinecrest elementary school into affordable housing for seniors has stalled – and without support and partnerships, is at risk to fizzle, and fail.

Almost two years have passed since the Lovesong Seniors Co-Housing Initiative by Emmanuel Baptist Church partnered with the municipality to purchase the former Pinecrest Memorial school in Bloomfield, which was declared surplus by the school board and closed in June 2017.

Ken How

Ken How, project facilitator, of LoveSong Seniors Housing and Community Hub, says much has transpired since, with studies conducted, reports filed, contacts made, public meetings held and deputations made to council.

His passion has not faded, but action to bring the idea to fruition has stalled.

“Pinecrest was a vibrant part of the community of Bloomfield,” he said, and the project would allow it to continue to be.

“We saw the problem first-hand about how people were having to move out of the County when they sold their homes, and some of them were moving into just terrible residential places, and so we said, there’s got to be a better solution to this, and building housing for them was a solution.”

Pinecrest School is a perfect fit for co-housing and a community hub because it’s quite central to Prince Edward County, he said.

“It’s got 20 acres of land and it’s got all kinds of possibilities for the outside space, all sorts of fabulous options and possibilities, all terrazzo floor, which is priceless, lockers down the halls, so much possible space usage within the building that’s it hard to describe it.”

Many liked the idea of taking a building, just 50 years old but in relatively good condition, and modifying it to provide small accommodations for seniors in a co-housing environment.

LoveSong reached out to partners, individuals, and all three levels of government, where all provided positive feedback and interest. How has heard from groups across Ontario and Canada, as well as the United States, asking about the idea and noting they would like to emulate it.

But last month, How gave an update to council in the form of a deputation to the Committee of the Whole.

The LoveSong Seniors Housing project, he said, has stalled, and right now, isn’t going anywhere.

Partners who expressed an initial interest haven’t stepped up, and How says LoveSong needs help now in order to move the project forward.

At this point, it is in danger of fizzling and being forgotten, something How does not want to see happen. “It has now become an urgent matter.”

The project, consisting of phase one to provide 50 units, is set at $6.3 million.

The County is the current owner of the property, having purchased the property from the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board for $375,000.

LoveSong still needs $250,000 to gain ownership of the building. So far, How says there’s $130,000 in the bank.

“We’ve got the vision, we’ve got all the ground work completed, but we haven’t got the key to the building.”

How is concerned that an empty building is a deteriorating building, and Pinecrest has sat empty now for more than two years.

LoveSong has a number of people who have asked to have their names put on a waiting list for the affordable housing units. He has had a number of elderly residents ask if the project will be completed before they die.

“How do you answer somebody who says something like that, when you know some of them will die before it’s done?” he says.

He says he feels frustrated with a project that has, for him, been years in the making, and some days he feels like he is reinventing the wheel.

The project is stuck unless partners, foundations, businesses and individuals come forward. He would also like to see the provincial government step up as a partner, and at least come and hear about the project, and see it for themselves.

As a former long-distance runner, How equates this project to a marathon, but he also notes that when you are running a marathon, the running is the easy part, noting it’s the preparatory stuff that’s important.

He states all the relevant documents, business plans, due diligence, assessments and reports have been completed – including environmental assessments and a site assessment, which includes the structural integrity of the building, a septic system analysis, a report on the flood plain, and traffic flow and so on.

“We signed a contract with the County to say give us a year to get the money aside to pay you back, so the County is $375,000 in the hole.”

“Part of that contract says the County will look after zoning changes and severance applications, and so on.”

How has been all over the province, including Kingston, Port Hope, Uxbridge, Parry Sound, Belleville and Peterborough to study the best model to emulate for Pinecrest.

“That’s why we believe the co-housing totally is the best model,” said How, “and could be replicated in other communities.”

He describes the problem of lack of affordable seniors housing as too big of a problem – one that the County or one partner or person can’t easily fix.

While potential and possibilities loom for the former school on 20 acres of land through further phases of development, right now, How wants phase one started and finished.

The proposed facility won’t be a regular apartment-type living or a long-term care facility or retirement home.

He explains the vision is for it to be affordable (well below market value), small self-contained units with bedroom/sitting area, kitchenette and full bath, approximately 400-450 square foot. Dining, lounge and laundry facilities will be shared. In addition, cultural, recreational and wellness programs and services will be available as part of the community hub.

“Because the units are small, the purpose is to draw people out and live in the community, which will also fight the loneliness routine,” he says.

“You think of it as a local or a Canadian problem, but it is a world problem,” said How of affordable housing, adding the shortage here has only worsened over a 10-year period, and started before Airbnbs were a factor in the community.

And now, he says, the ‘grey-tsunami’ is coming as the Baby Boomer generation ages.

“We say it takes a community to raise a child, but that same community needs to revere, respect and support the seniors and that’s something we haven’t been doing.”

“To me, it seems like a no-brainer to get $40 million worth of bang for a $7 million project.”

He encourages anyone that wants to find out more about the project to contact him.

This former primary school educator, now in his 70s, is not a developer and is not doing this to make money.

“There is nothing in this for me,” he notes.

While he appreciates there are a number of important large projects ongoing in the County, How wants to remind people that Pinecrest already exists: the structure, as well as much of the infrastructure, exists.

“What is needed to update and upgrade the building is minimal because so much of the building is already there,” he says. “We are reconfiguring an existing structure, and we want to reinvigorate and recreate something here.”

“We are our brother’s keeper,” he adds, “And if we don’t do this, who is going to do it?”

LoveSong’s dream was to have this facility open in 2022.

“If you build it, they will come,” he says optimistically, again, emphasizing the urgent need for partners.

As a registered not-for-profit corporation he says 100 per cent of donations and funds will go to support the renovation of the school, and to ensure the on-going operation and sustainability of the complex. Donations of $20 and more will receive a tax receipt, and are gratefully appreciated at any time.

For those individuals, groups, businesses, and foundations who may be interested in partnering with LoveSong visit the website at lovesonghousing.org or email: kenjanhow@yahoo.com

NOTE: The County is asking the school board to reconsider a joint expression of interest for the former Queen Elizabeth School property to address housing needs in Picton . Click here for story

 

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  1. ER says:

    This project makes no sense, unless you are attracting needed services (bank, grocery store, pharmacy, etc) to aid the seniors, then this is a poorly thought out project – move it to picton. Iam not surprised the project has stalled – its all good and great to have an idea but it needs to be thought through. There is a lot of issues I see as well…like why is the County holding financing for a church group? And why are they getting special treatment from the County? We need to address real problems like staff shortages because of NO housing available – I think what KT said is bang on and that is the issue at hand, we need to support the industries that are fueling the economy annually & that is our burgeoning tourism industry – end of story. This seems to be turning into more of a vanity/passion project for Mr How than anything. I say the County needs to list the property and let it go to someone who can develop it & who has the experience doing so, also if you don’t have $375k where is the 6.3 million coming from for phase 1 of the project? A lot of dreaming here with no understanding of the neighborhood and it’s surroundings. Plus the fact that Bloomfield is on rural sanitary services would present a problem. I hope the County is making them do all the proper and necessary re-zoning changes required to accommodate this use, as they said the County is “taking care” of the paperwork.

  2. Angela says:

    Keeping I mind that this is supposed to be affordable housing for seniors who lack the money to buy condos or pay today’s high rents how will they afford the restaurants and shops in Bloomfield even if they can walk there?

  3. Gayle Istead says:

    Veer good spot and very close to Picton..an easy track to Belleville. Cherry Valley retirement home seems to be doing well. A lot of seniors still drive and we have transit and taxi service at hand…Build one in Picton too. A nice little walk to coffe shops and stores on the main st. Of Bloomfield.

  4. Jack Smith says:

    I have to agree with Mark on this. It makes sense. 🙂

  5. Mark says:

    Pinecrest was probably the worst location for seniors afffordable housing. No, grocery store, no bank, no pharmacy, no transit, no affordable shopping and reallly isolated from the community. Queen Elizabeth school makes so much more sense.

  6. Mike Rodgers says:

    The old arena, the old convenient store, the Bloomfield school. Now I see the county wants QE school. Are the councils past and present on course to bankrupt us all. I have said before sell everything to developers with conditions, lets get something done. I think the Pinecrest idea was a disaster from the beginning. It seem to me to be a medium security prison cell for seniors.

  7. Terry Hierlihy says:

    KT
    I totally agree with you and have voiced from the beginning that the building should be turned into a hostel for summer seasonal employees. The County or whoever would at the very least cover costs on the property and maybe contribute to the purchase price.

  8. Angela says:

    QE school is well located for conversion to a senior housing facility. Sad to see it just sitting there for it is certain to deteriorate. Pinecrest is not suitably located for this purpose. Seniors need to be in walking distance of services. Bloomfield is a tourist town now with some upscale eateries and shops. Seniors would find it more convenient to be near Giant Tiger, pharmacies, and a library that is open for longer hours than the Bloomfield branch.

  9. Carol says:

    This is truly sad and Pinecrest isn’t the only empty school within PEC with no future plan. I feel equally upset over QE school as it continues to deteriorate and is smeared with grafitti. QE is also located in close proximity to all services; has an abundance of area for parking; and, would make an ideal location for various types of housing accomodations. These structures should not be left vacated, abused and ignored.

  10. Jack Smith says:

    I am 61 years old and went there when I was in grade four till grade 8. Was the best five years of my life and one of the best schools around and it breaks my heart to see it just sitting there to rot. 🙁

  11. kt says:

    As I’ve said from the beginning….
    get 50 trailers on that property that can house summer staff. It is NOT a good location for seniors as you require a car to go anywhere for appointments, groceries, or any amenitites beyond fancy restaurants or a post office in BLoomfield.
    Invest much less getting the trailers in and rent them out on a monthly basis only to staff of local businesses who are equally desperate for housing for the season….
    and start cashing in on that income to start financing the next phase of the project.
    less upfront investment
    make the community a MULTI-AGE area….. let’s not ghetto-ize areas for “old folks” or “young folks. let’s just GET folks in there

    what about snow bird who would like a place to live here for seven or eight months a year. start out unwinterized and once some funds start rolling in THEN start the large money projects.

    my two cents worth,

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