Opinion

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- by Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

We understand that this is how capitalism works. Someone with capital takes “the risk” of buying a property and with it the right to develop it or rent it out or sell it again, for a profit.

When it is public property like a school, and the building has been built and maintained with public tax dollars, and the proceeds from the sale become part once again part of public capital resources, the rules are no different.

Bayview School was closed in the spring of 2017, as were Dufferin, Sydenham and Derby schools. Sydenham was sold to Grey County and is now the location of the Grey Bruce Business Generator, ultimately to be a regional skills training, trades and innovation community hub. Dufferin was sold to the M’Wikwedong Indigenous Friendship Centre for an expansion to put all their programs under one roof.

Derby, in nearby Kilsyth, was bought by Barry's Construction for $111,000. Although there had been hope for re-purposing the school building for housing, the same structural concerns faced by the school board made that impractical. The building has been removed and crops have been planted on the property. Future plans for the property remain to be determined.

Bayview School caught the interest of the Glassworks Co-operative as a potential site for their planned sustainable housing project. They were outbid in the tender process this spring by local real estate broker Bill Stobbe, who bought the building and 7.1 acre property for $808,300 (plus HST). He sold some of the school cabinetry to the new Georgian Bay Centre for the Arts, and now has the property listed for sale for $1.87 million. Stobbe clearly sees the housing potential too ..”Could be converted into approx. 30 condo units or apartments without changing the footprint of the building. Also potential for townhouses in the former playground (about 4 banks of 4).”

The new pricetag has likely put the property well out of reach of any community or non-profit housing project. With no inclusive by-law in Owen Sound to ensure housing includes a percentage of attainable units, your tax dollars may have just provided an exclusive building lot where there was once an elementary school that was a selling feature to hundreds of local home buyers over the decades.

The Bluewater District School Board, unlike Mr. Stobbe, is not in the real estate business. Empty school properties still need to be maintained and secured, and there is no advantage to holding on to them when they are no longer occupied by students. Under the Education Act, there are a number of bodies that must be given the opportunity to make an offer before the sale of a school property is tendered publicly - other school boards in town, the municipality (and county), college, board of health, youth mental health agencies, Indigenous groups, etc.

Clearly all the rules were followed, and the school board has $808,300 in its capital reserves, or wherever such proceeds end up. That does not go very far in the world of aging school infrastructure, but half a loaf is better and all that.

We shall wait and see if there is a buyer with deep pockets who also has vision and a sense of what our community needs.


 

 

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