By Jennifer Hoegg
Grab the opportunity.
That was what Kentville council and staff heard from an audience of approximately 40 residents at a July 19 public meeting on the former Kings County Academy property.
A presentation from chief administrative officer Mark Phillips outlined the condition of the property and potential costs associated with taking on the 7.12-acre site, declared surplus by the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board in March. The town has until July 31 to decide if it wants the property.
“How does this fit into the long range vision of the Town of Kentville?” resident Jim Noonan asked. “Let’s take the costs out of it. I have a great sense this is going to be a cost decision, not a vision decision.”
Academy Street resident Geoff Muttart pointed out the town has two decisions to make: a short-term decision about whether to take on the school and a long-term discussion about what should be on the site.
“As a neighbour, it’s very important to me what happens over the long-term,” Muttart added. “We’re not going to be able to have that conversation if town council doesn’t acquire the property.”
According to the staff report, the buildings are in rough shape and all but the gym and cafeteria failed a visual inspection. Expert consultants said the old elementary section should go. So should the senior high - unless there are heritage considerations – as it would cost $3 to $4 million to bring up to code and would cost $180,000 to $200,000 operate currently.
Recreation advocates have suggested keeping the newest portion of the building, built in the 1980s.
Phillips noted surveys, including the ICSP and a local Rotary Club community needs assessment, show “a multipurpose facility rises to the top” of Kentville residents’ wish list. During the meeting, residents also mentioned wanting a new library, pool, baseball field and a second ice surface.
“A recreational centre close to downtown is very appealing,” said Dr. Daniel Woo, a cardiologist who has recently moved to Kentville. “There is already a building there; it needs work. Money should be spent on citizens in our community.”
Upgrading the newer part of the facility, adding a wall and a heating plant would cost $650,000. Annual costs would be approximately $127,900 to $186,000 per year, including debt repayment.
Revenue potential for the cafeteria, gym and stage could be between $84,500 and $183,100, but would likely cost community groups, Phillips noted.
“I don’t speak for council,” Phillips said. “I don’t see a facility like this being free. Somebody will have to pay.”
He noted the town’s sports fields do not make money and the arena breaks even.
Operational and capital costs for the gym and cafeteria section would not include demolishing the other structures, which are estimated to be $150,000 for the elementary building and $320,000 for the senior building.
Demolishing all buildings on the site would be between $500,000 and $750,000.
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There were no costs presented on upgrading or maintaining the playing fields or playground. However, there is a storm sewer running through the field that is in poor condition.
The town could also take on the property and sell it to a residential or commercial developer, but the current institutional zoning would need to be changed.
Phillips said there have been no serious inquiries about development on the site. A visit from an experienced developer suggested that in its present condition, it would be challenging.
Securing the vacant property would also be expensive, requiring insurance, security and maintenance. Police and fire services expressed concern about arson, squatting and drug use.
Development is also a concern for nearby residents.
“My neighbours have expressed concerns a quiet little neighbourhood wouldn’t be quite anymore,” said Bertha Ptacek, who lives on Comeau Avenue.
Overall, the message from the audience was to grab the opportunity to take on the property before the opportunity was lost.
“Let’s take a look at the future,” Sylvia Weir, another neighbour and former teacher at the school said. “Don’t make a decision you will regret.”
Council has a difficult decision, acknowledged another resident, Dave Ritcey.
“We have had one blow after another,” resident Dave Ritcey said. “The numbers scare the hell out of me, but we need to be bold.”
A decision on the property is expected at the July 30 town council meeting. Feedback on the issue can be directed to email@example.com. A copy of the presentation can be downloaded from the town's website.
Kentville’s chief administrative officer says there are “inconsistencies in how (school gym) time is administered,” at a July 19 meeting about the former Kings County Academy property.
“It really depends on school principals,” said Mark Phillips.
One parent in the audience, Heather Windrow, said gym time is a problem – especially in the summer.
“My daughter has to go to Waterville to play basketball.”
Kentville and the new Kings County Academy do not have a community use of schools agreement in place, Phillips noted, and use of the gym at the Gary Pearl Drive school “has been somewhat restrictive.
Town recreation department involvement in scheduling gym time is “a positive,” however.
Kings-North MLA Jim Morton said at the end of the meeting there “is a an opportunity to work out better uses of public facilities.”
Mentioning KCA, Aldershot, NSCC Kingstec and Evangeline Middle School, Morton suggested it is possible to “work more fully to make better use” of local gyms.