“We want our children to grow up to be architects and engineers too,” said Rev. Rhonda Britton, addressing the crowd of close to 200 gathered outside of the former St. Patrick's Alexandra school.
“We want our children to have the best possible future, just like any other people in this city. And we are sick of being the dumping ground, and those that are set aside for grandiose ideas of other people. We want a say in our future. We want to be self-determining.”
The St. Pat's site, which comprises the school itself, an adjoining parking lot, and nearly a city block of school yard, was recently sold by the HRM for private development. This despite the fact that community development plans were presented as options to council, which, according to council's guiding mandate in the matter, should have taken precedence. Upset over what is perceived as council not bothering to follow it's own rules, those in attendance today want the process by which St. Pat's was sold to be revisited, and subsequently overturned.
“We will fight to the end to have them revisit this to say that they messed up, they made a misstep in the process, and they need to redo this,” said Britton. “We want to toss out (council's decision), and start over.”
While the St. Pat's school site was front and centre in protestors' minds this morning, many perceive the St.Pat's sale as endemic of a bigger problem. The process itself, by which non-usable schools are turned over to the city, who then deal with proposals for development, has recently led to a number of community proposals being eschewed in lieu of private development.
“We saw it with QEH high school,” says Alan Ruffman, Dalhousie professor and long-involved with community development issues. “Hidden and behind closed doors, (the city) decided to give QEH back to the hospital without thinking about giving it back to the Common, for example. We've seen it with the Fairview property. They negotiated for the highest price. There was no consideration for what was in the community interest. And here, the same thing. And what a number of people think they are trying to do is build up a little booty of money by selling school board properties to build a stadium.”
Whether or not the HRM is stockpiling cash to make a run at building a stadium, council's composition continues to be non-representative of the communities these sales affect. The HRM's regional boundaries, even redrawn as they soon will be, still give a majority rule to councillors who represent non-peninsula ridings. Those in the outlying areas, with no exposure to the actualities of an inner-city community, are still able to dictate the workings and structure of the inner city to those that live there. Dawn Sloane, a peninsular councillor herself, considers the boundaries problematic to city governance.
“In regional council, you are just one vote out of 23,” says Sloane. “And that is part of the problem. Our governance is wrong, and you do have to change that if you want to make this government work. I think we're going to be lopsided in the future (when boundaries are redrawn), where there's going to be 6 urban councillors and 9 rural councillors.”
The debate over the final sale of the St. Pat's property continues in council on Tuesday, January 10th. While public commentary will not be allowed at this session, Rev. Britton remains hopeful, and committed, that the voice of the North End will be heard.
“We shall overcome,” says Britton. “And not just someday. Today.”