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Key exchange hits right note for LoveSong seniors’ housing in former school

Present at Monday’s official key handing over ceremony, where COVID-19 safety protocols were observed, were Bay of Quinte MP Neil Ellis, David Joyce, Director of Riding Affairs, representing Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith, PEC mayor Steve Ferguson, and County councillors Ernie Margetson (Hillier), Bill Roberts (Sophiasburgh), John Hirsch (South Marysburgh), Phil Prinzen (Bloomfield/Hallowell ) and Phil St-Jean (Picton). Also present was Ken How, LoveSong chairperson, Paul Robertson, LoveSong board member, and developer Andy Spry, of Springdale Development Corporation.

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
The LoveSong Seniors Housing and Community Hub project took a big step forward Monday when the municipality officially handed over the keys to the former Pinecrest Memorial Elementary School to the not-for-profit volunteer community group.

LoveSong, with a plan for affordable co-housing for seniors, purchased the former school from the municipality, which had purchased it from the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board after it had been deemed surplus three years ago.

The 53-year-old school, which remains in good condition with a steel structure, is to be re-purposed into 50 housing units, each providing 400-square-foot apartments in phase one of the renovation.

Each unit is to be equipped with a bed/sitting area, kitchenette, private bathroom/shower, and doors to the inside hallways and outdoor space. Half of the units are to be rented at fair market value and the other half are to be geared-to-income.

The former school sits on 20 acres of land on Corey Street in Bloomfield and there are plans to develop the land in five phases. While plans for phases two to five are yet to be determined, the group is examining mixed and multi-generational housing.

“We celebrate this key exchange today as LoveSong has purchased the school building from Prince Edward County through the dispensation of property,” said Donna Rodgers, LoveSong board member.

Rodgers said this was the beginning of the building project that will provide safe, affordable apartments for seniors in the County, stressing it is not a nursing home, or a retirement home.

“LoveSong Affordable Seniors Co-housing and Community Hub is a partnership between many in the community supporting each other in a healthy, safe, fun environment,” she said.

Ken How

LoveSong chairperson Ken How said the dream and the idea began at least 10 years ago through a group of members of Emmanuel Baptist Church.

“I can’t put into words how excited I am to have this occasion and this day come. This day has been a long time coming, and we started this journey to seek a facility to apply adaptive re-use,” said How.

He pointed out the structure is 70 per cent finished.

“The basic building that exists here today is a fabulous building to start from.”

How also noted the partnership with the municipality contributes to solving the severe housing shortage in the County. The building was purchased by LoveSong about six months ago for $375,000 – what the municipality paid the school board.

“Every penny that has been put into buying this building was raised by community fundraising dollars. This is truly a community project,” How said. “We got $20 donations, $20,000 donations, all to be able to buy this building.”

“The County has been assisting us financially for the past while to keep the lights on, keep the insurance on the building and so on, and we hope we can negotiate that continuance.”

LoveSong will be a community hub, not only for the people who live in the building, but also the surrounding outgoing community, he said.

“It has always been a hub, it’s always been a connecting, joining spot in Prince Edward County, so it will more so that way, so we will welcome in the community.”

He said they hope to bring a doctor’s office, physiotherapist’s office and a nursing station to the facility, among other assets.

The existing gymnasium is to serve both the residents of LoveSong as well as members of the surrounding community with access to recreational and cultural activities, including fitness classes, theatre, hobby and meeting facilities, becoming a cultural hub for Bloomfield.

Rodgers also said that a number of local groups had expressed interest in using the school, including a theatre group who wanted to use the gymnasium stage for practices.

“Together we can build a better place for seniors to live, a place where they can know their neighbours and a place where they can enjoy and contribute to a rich sense of community.” stated Rodgers.

LoveSong needs $10 million to complete the transformation of the former school, where How anticipates there will be many hidden costs, such as roof leaks. He also noted the building has no insulation.

MP Neil Ellis at the LoveSong key exchange

“This is really a community project and to see it come to fruition today is incredible,” said Neil Ellis, Bay of Quinte MP. “It’s not easy to get something like this going. It’s been a hard long slug.”

He too acknowledged that the project is over half way complete as it is already built.

“It’s well needed in the riding and in Prince Edward County. Units and projects like this will unite community. This is going to go on the map. This model is a model we can continue to build on.”

Representing Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith, David Joyce spoke to quality of life, socialization opportunities and longevity to the unique affordable co-housing opportunity.

“If you have a senior-based population with a median age 13 years higher than the province, and widening, and many on fixed incomes, and in 10 years the increase in your average housing price has increased seven times the median income, the sum is an uncomfortable situation,” said Joyce. “But it’s also a place where you can get creative into a love song with changing demographics. You’ve realized there’s room to change focus to meet the needs of this community.“

‘This hub is much needed, and as you write the final notes of your love song in Prince Edward County, we wish you success,” added Joyce.

PEC Mayor Steve Ferguson

Prince Edward County mayor Steve Ferguson noted it has been an incredibly long road to get to this point.

“Many many hours, much passion and incredible amounts of perseverance. Affordable housing for seniors is a crucial and a significant problem in Prince Edward County,” said Ferguson. “This is a terrific step forward for our community.”

A tour of the inside of the school property followed for those who wanted a glimpse of the classrooms, the principal’s office and gymnasium, an especially poignant moment for those who had attended the school, where some reminiscing went on.

As the building is emptied of its contents, items such as blackboards, lockers, cupboards, shelving and more will be put up for sale on a community yard sale website.

LoveSong is currently applying for grants (municipal, provincial and federal) and funding sources in advance of building commencing in fall 2021. The facility is expected to open in 2022.

Further details of the LoveSong Seniors Housing and Community Hub can be found at lovesonghousing.org

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