Halifax regional council has voted to sell parkland to the province to build a new school in Clayton Park.
In a Tuesday council meeting, the city heard from acting director of N.S. corporate real estate Mike Wile, that with population density growing, the Clayton Park community is in need of a new pre-primary to Grade 8 school.
The province proposed to buy the parkland located next to Park West School.
Current projections for a new school include plans to accommodate about 800 to 1,000 students in a three-storey building of about 125,000 square feet.
Some community members have opposed the idea, saying they don’t want to lose the forest area. A petition launched has exceeded 200 signatures at the time of the council vote.
Coun. Iona Stoddard, who represents District 12 – Clayton Park, said she has been a part of this “very passionate” file since her election.
“This current school does have an issue of overcrowding. The proposal is to build a three-storey school to support the area,” she told council. “I would also let you know there are a lot of cranes in the air right now, and this school will hopefully support those new builds.”
Wile said while there’s a list of alternative locations, “there’s no good second choice at this time.”
Wile said if this were approved, next steps would be talking to the province about an agreement and transactional details.
Wile said if the municipality dismissed this proposal, the province would “have the ability” to expropriate the land
Though the vote passed, it wasn’t unanimous. District 13 Coun. Pam Lovelace and District 10 Coun. Kathryn Morse voted against it.
Coun. Lisa Blackburn asked whether an agreement would mean HRM could ensure the community’s interests are met.
Wile said as part of the sale, HRM could include conditions to resolve some concerns that were raised by a traffic impact study, such as on-site parking and a student drop-off lane for the school. Those conditions would not be guaranteed in the case of an expropriation, Wile confirmed.
Past reports, Wile said, indicated the province’s hope to have the new school open by 2023 – a timeline that’s now been missed.
“There certainly is a pressing need in the area,” Wile said, referencing population growth.
The staffer told council HRM could do a “transfer of the land with a reversionary clause,” meaning it the municipality could buy back the property once the province is done using it for educational purposes. However, that would involve changing the charter.
“Presumably if this is being sold at market value, the HRM would have the right to repurchase.”
Morse pointed out to council prior to the vote that expectations from the school have grown since 2019, when the proposal was introduced. Morse wondered whether the plan presented to council accounted for growing needs of the community.
The site plan presented to council was a plan developed in 2019, Wile said, adding the plan does not reflect the additional growth of the school and the area’s population in the past three years.
At this point, there wasn’t a newer plan available with the same level of detail, he said, but moving forward plans will reflect additional size and parking needs.
Lovelace told council it’s still not clear whether this would benefit the community.
“We all know that kids need schools but at the end of the day, we have nothing to do with the school siting program,” Lovelace said. “Now we got a tap on the shoulder from the province saying, ‘Hey, we need your land because we didn’t adequately prepare for the future of schooling for this community.’”
She said the city has not explored what it would mean to remove this public green space in a community that is highly densified.
“A part of me is saying I think we need to protect this land. It’s parkland… It should remain parkland,” Lovelace said.
Catherine O’Toole, the HRM’s chief administrative officer, told council that land transactions with the province are not one-sided, as the city is requesting provincial land for municipal services too.