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St.Pat's-Alexandra: Reinventing the hub of the North End

Animated community meeting kicks off discussion on former school's development

by Robert Devet

60 or so North End residents attended a community meeting about the future of the now vacant St.Pat's-Alexandra school.  They had lots of ideas about what that future should look like. Photo Robert Devet
60 or so North End residents attended a community meeting about the future of the now vacant St.Pat's-Alexandra school. They had lots of ideas about what that future should look like. Photo Robert Devet

K'JIPUKTUK, HALIFAX - "St Pat's-Alexandra School is the heartbeat of the North End. The school shaped many of us and it shaped who our kids are, it's our heart and soul. Now we feel as if we are no longer wanted in our community."

That's how one of the 60 or so people who attended a public meeting on the future of the vacant building described how she felt about the now vacant school building in her neighborhood. 

City staff recently recommended that the building be sold to a private developer rather than purchased and developed by a community group.  

City Council decided to ignore the staff's recommendation for now, and allow the community to present their proposal after all, sometime in the not too distant future.  Whether Council will approve the proposal at that time is not a foregone conclusion.

"We need to show that we can create the revenue to sustain it, so that residents can stay in this area. We want to create units that our residents can afford to purchase so they can stay" said Dr. Rhonda Britton, Senior Pastor of the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church.

Britton is one of the members of the North Central Community Council Board, a collective made up of the North End Community Health Clinic, the M'ikmaw Native Friendship Centre, and the Richard Preston Centre for Excellence.

At this time the group's proposal includes the creation of 250 housing units, 60 per cent to be sold for market value, and 40 per cent set aside to be subsidized to various degrees, to counteract ongoing gentrification.

The purpose of the meeting was to start fleshing out what the new development could look like.

"This is a community project," said Pamela Glode-DesRochers, Executive Director of the M'ikmaw Native Friendship Centre. "Without you there is not much we will get out of this."

"We really need to document that this comes from community. This is so important for us. That property is your property. You have a right to remain in your homes and not be pushed out," said Glode-DesRochers to enthusiastic applause form the crowd.

"Tonight is the beginning of an idea," said Frank Palermo, lead-architect and a professor at the faculty of Architecture and Planning at Dalhousie. "This project belongs to the community."

"A community should shape its own future. It's not a bunch of people in a backroom somewhere, not a bunch of professionals guided by studies," said Palermo.

If last night's meeting was any indication, then lack of support, or lack of ideas for that matter, will not be a problem.

People split up in smaller groups to talk about what the new community hub could and should look like.

Local residents strongly endorsed the notion of affordable and accessible homes for young people, families and seniors.

Community gardens, an art and youth centre, a store-front for a much-needed bank, a gym, and lots of green space and parkland were some of the other ideas that were kicked around.

"I am excited, it's wonderful to see so much support and energy in the room," Britton told the Halifax Media Co-op after the meeting.

"This is a true community-driven project, not just these three women running these three organizations," she said.

"It's a once in a lifetime opportunity for us, we don't see any other site in the heart of our community that affords us this opportunity to develop something that will be important across all generations and for ages to come."

See also:

HRM gets earful at St.Pat's-Alexandra consultation

St.Pat's-Alexandra should be given to community: Kitpu

For the latest St. Pat's-related news and events, see the North Central Community Council Board website


Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert



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