HALIFAX – It was a small victory Tuesday night for a community group that has been fighting to turn St. Patricks Alexandra into a community centre.
Regional Council voted 10 to seven against a staff report recommending that it decline a proposal by the North Central Community Council, NCCC.
Reverend Rhonda Britton with NCCC celebrated after council defeated the motion to accept the staff report.
“We are so grateful to council for its careful deliberation,” she said.
“We’re still in a ‘pinch me, am I really just taking a nap and having a dream?’ because it has been such a long fight.”
Debate was tense and fierce as councillors discussed the pros and cons of turning the former school site over to a group of non-profits.
Topics of concern varied from the site’s benefit to the community to financial feasibility.
“Operating the facility requires ongoing funds,” said councillor Gloria McCluskey. “While the NCCC has demonstrated it can generate some revenue, there is not enough evidence to show those funds are sufficient to offset the expenses of maintaining the structure.”
“According to the team of staff that were put together to bring back the recommendation to council, [NCCC] has not presented a viable proposal to operate the former St. Patricks Alexandra site,” said councillor Bill Karsten.
Councillor Linda Mosher argued that a building does not define a community, and she was against putting the community centre in a ‘derelict building’.
She told council that they are not elected to be popular but rather to be fiscally responsible and she offered to work with the community on building a new building instead.
Other councillors, and even the mayor, spoke out in support of the NCCC proposal though.
“Please do this for the community,” said councillor Waye Mason. “It is a little bit of a leap of faith, as is all things that are worth doing.”
Councillor Jennifer Watts told the meeting that the community hub would be a counterweight to gentrification in the neighbourhood and help foster diversity and inclusivity in the area.
Mayor Mike Savage first commended staff for their report and then told council his vote on the matter was very difficult to come to.
He added voting against the staff report did not mean that council did not trust staff or did not care about the development of the city. He then said voting for the staff report did not mean they do not care about their community.
Ultimately, Savage told council he was voting against the report.
“In my view, the public good, the potential public good is enormous and was worth supporting,” he said.
“It was a unique opportunity for that community to have a partner in their municipality.”
Britton admits the debate between councillors had her on edge.
“I could feel the tension in my neck, just the muscles, getting tighter and tighter. It’s very suspenseful time in the chamber when you hear these discussions going on and you don’t know how people are going to vote.”
“I just feel so relieved when they took that vote and defeated the staff motion. I just thought ‘thank you,” said Melinda Daye, the African Nova Scotian representative for the Halifax Regional School Board.
“Let’s just get the job done. We can do this.”
Debate over St. Patricks Alexandra has been going on for several years now. This latest development does not mean the site will be turned over to NCCC just yet. Rather city staff will write another report and a public hearing will be held on the matter.
The decision from regional council comes the day before a court case involving Jono Developments, which was initially awarded the bid on the site.
The Supreme Court overturned the sale, which the company is appealing.
The case will heard by Nova Scotia Court of Appeal on Wednesday.