By Stephen Hawboldt
The future of the Annapolis Royal Regional Academy (ARRA), the stately icon that has graced upper Saint George Street in Annapolis Royal since it was built in the early 1950s, is still very much in flux.
Built to replace an earlier structure destroyed by fire, the current building, with its arched multi-pane windows and architecturally detailed entrances, houses about 170 students in Grades 6 to 9. In spite of considerable community opposition, the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board (AVRSB) opted to centralize all Annapolis Royal middle and high school students in the Annapolis West Education Centre (AWEC). That building is being updated to accommodate these needs.
The fact that the building will be vacated as a middle school seems to be the only certainty about the future of ARRA. The consolidation of all middle and high school students in AWEC was originally scheduled for September 2014 but that is not confirmed.
While many in the region were focused on the continuation of ARRA as part of the AVRSB system, a small group came together to look at the longer-term future for the stately structure. The Friends of ARRA is a loose grouping of citizens who want to ensure the long-term future of a building they see as an icon.
Sally O’Grady, Annapolis Royal, serves as the chair because, as she says, the group meets in her house monthly. Always welcoming other players, the participants are primarily concerned about the “re-purposing” of ARRA building. Other involved citizens include business owners, community advocates, and municipal leaders.
O’Grady explained that the participants see the building as a central part of the community and want to ensure it continues to occupy this position of prominence. While it might have been ideal to see the building continue as a functioning part of the local school system, this does not seem likely. The future for ARRA, however, is clouded by many variables.
In September 2014 the renovated AWEC is anticipated to be accepting all middle and senior high students, O’Grady says that date has not been confirmed. If AVRSB no longer has any use for ARRA, it is uncertain as to who will accept responsibility for the structure and its estimated annual upkeep costs of that could reach $100,000.
In the 1980s, ownership of ARRA was given to the Province of Nova Scotia to facilitate the financing of extensive renovations. Prior to that, the property was owned 90 per cent by Annapolis County and 10 per cent by the Town of Annapolis Royal. The problem is that when the renovations were completed, ownership was not transferred back to the two municipal units. According to a report to Annapolis County council, county solicitor, Bruce Gillis, said the building is still owned by the province.
The ownership issue raises other questions. If the province still owns the building, what will happen once it is vacated as a school? Will it be offered to the two municipal units? Are they required to accept it? Due to the potential burden that operating costs could represent for property taxpayers, the two municipal units may not be keen to assume ownership unless they have a financially sustainable, alternative use for the property.
Finding alternative uses for municipally owned real estate may be complicated by provisions of the Municipal Government Act. Only under exceptional circumstances can municipal units sell or rent property for less than fair market value. The cost implications of this could make the structure financially unattractive for redevelopment.
If the building were to remain under provincial control, it might be that the province would seek to dispose of the property by tender. If there were no takers, the building could be slated for demolition so that the annual operating and maintenance costs could be avoided by the province. One observer said that frequently these decisions are made quickly.
While the Friends of ARRA are exploring several options for re-purposing the building, O’Grady said that it is premature to discuss these. She said that the group will work with anyone who is interested in securing the long-term future of what they consider to be a cultural and architectural icon in Annapolis Royal.
“We want the building used, not torn down,” she said