Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
May 17, 2024
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April 17, 2024
Volume 194 No. 16

Striding forward

Council looks to purchase the former school building and strike public-private partnership on affordable housing
<p>Council is poised to purchase the former Queen Elizabeth Public School from the Hastings &#038; Prince Edward District School Board for $1.37 million. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)</p>
Council is poised to purchase the former Queen Elizabeth Public School from the Hastings & Prince Edward District School Board for $1.37 million. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

It is too good a deal to pass up. 

The Committee of the Whole moved to purchase the Queen Elizabeth School for $1.37 million last week. The property includes a 53,500 square foot school building and 4.5 acres of land in the centre of a historic residential neighbourhood in Picton. 

The move came despite the denial of its application to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Housing Accelerator Fund for $14.2 million to support six affordable housing projects earlier this year.

 Council will seek a public-private partnership for the development of the former elementary school, which was declared surplus to the needs of Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board in 2019.

The municipality will use interim funding from operating funds for the purchase.

Without direction from Council, the pending purchase offer to the school board from the municipality would have expired on June 10. At that point the school board could have put the property on the open market. 

The municipality and Prince Edward Lennox & Addington Social Services applied for funding to develop a community services hub in the school, in partnership with local healthcare, wellness, youth and childcare, and housing agencies. Of the adjoining land, 1.2 acres was to be dedicated to the Affordable Housing Corporation to create 100 units. 

In the absence of the federal funds, the County will purchase the property and launch an Expressions of Interest process. Options include selling the school building and using the proceeds to develop the adjoining land. Or to sell some of the land and develop the existing building. 

Housing Director Adam Goheen said a recommendation would come before Council this summer.

“With the property secured, the County retains a strong level of control over its future use. We can work with a private party to realize some level of community benefit,” he said.

“That would not be the case if the property ended up on the open market. This approach is low risk considering the value of the property and the amount we’ve agreed to purchase it for.” 

Councillors opposed argued that for a cash-strapped municipality, a mid-year, unbudgeted expenditure is, on the surface, untenable. 

Councillor Prinzen recalled the day a relieved director told Council the municipality had successfully divested itself of the Pinecrest Memorial School. He wondered why the County was now speculating on real estate.

Councillor Braney said he could not support the motion without upper level funding. He suggested another extension from HPEDSB to further investigate options without fully committing to purchase the property should they not materialize. 

But CAO Marcia Wallace said yet another extension on the pending agreement was a non-starter. 

“The school board has been trying to unload this surplus property for six years. It is fully aware of what 4.5 acres in the center of town will fetch on the open market.” 

“They’ve lost opportunities year after year to use these proceeds for capital expenditures. I’d say their good will is probably used up.”

For those in favour, the low purchase price was key. Councillor MacNaughton noted it was “an insurance policy” should the County find itself unable to find a development partner. 

Councillors MacNaughton, St. Jean, Branderhorst, Grosso, Roberts, Maynard, Hirsch, Nieman and Mayor Feguson voted in favour. Councillors Braney, Prinzen, Engelsdorfer, Harrison and Pennell were opposed.

The motion returns to the April 23 Council meeting for final approval.

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 16 edition of The Picton Gazette
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