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The Saint Patrick's-Alexandra School Revival

Celebrations, sharing and hard work ahead

by Scott Barber

The Saint Patrick's-Alexandra School Revival

K'jipuktuk (Halifax) - On Nov. 3, North Central Halifax community members gathered at the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church hall to discuss the recent decision by the Halifax Regional Municipality to not appeal the decision and direction that Justice A. David MacAdam issued in September following hearings in June.

The victory of the community-launched lawsuit brings fresh opportunity for the groups spearheading the fight to create a renewed St. Patrick's-Alexandra site, not as a developer's dream, but as a collaborative community centre. The group includes the Richard Preston Centre for Excellence (itself a society of historically African-Canadian community, social and business initiatives), the Mi'kmaq Native Friendship Centre and the North End Community Health Centre. They have been joined by the Halifax Community Investment Fund — perhaps the most prominent of the groups — working together in the effort to make use of the St. Patrick's-Alexandra site for the community.

While a renewed opportunity now exists for the community, it still must pass through an HRM decision making process which will include a minimum of one community consultation meeting and a submission of a formal proposal to the city.

The community meeting, called on short notice by Reverend Rhonda Britton of Cornwallis Street Baptist Church, was an initial chance for community members to get together outside the glare of media attention to begin celebrating the journey thus far, and to consider ways of moving forward.

Some of the ideas that have been shared around the community prior to Saturday's meeting include: low-income housing; an expanded community garden program; space for community gatherings and events; as well as program-specific tenancy by diverse community groups in addition to the leading organizations.

According to Britton, who took time to talk to members of the press following Saturday's meeting: “I think that the next step is to hold some kind of forum where community members can come forth and express whatever they think they might want to see on the site as we formulate the plans for the proposal that the city will require. We want the community to be enthusiastic and optimistic about what can happen in the space and so we're going to try to generate some kind of event where ... they can be excited and celebrate what has happened as well. But there's a lot of work to do ... "

This of course means “getting feet to the pavement” to increase grassroots input and involvement as the process moves forward, and preparing the community for whatever consultation process is offered by the city. It means a lot of work being put into a coherent and persuasive proposal for the site.

In the past, HRM staff has been helpful in providing resources and advise to community initiatives seeking to make use of city property. Whether it will begin to do so in this case remains to be seen, as until now both staff and city council have appeared antagonistic to any community use of the St. Patrick's-Alexandra site. This antagonism has raised questions again in the north central area about racial and class bias informing HRM attitudes and decision making.

It seems now, with the recent agreement by Council to return to a process that gives community groups a chance to submit proposals before beginning the Requests for Admissions process for disposal of city property, that municipal council and HRM staff have, in this instance, to make a genuine and unbiased effort to serve their own constituents in the north central community.

So, as it stands now, the community awaits a formal offer of consultation from HRM and the beginning of a 90-day period in which non-profit community groups will be able to submit their proposals. And while it waits, it appears the north central community will be hard at work to make recent victories permanent, and to usher in a new era of revitalization for an historically oppressed and challenged neighbourhood.

Please have a listen to excerpts (linked above) from Reverend Britton's statements following Saturday's community gathering, and keep an eye on the Halifax Media Co-op “Events” page for upcoming celebration and sharing, and the opportunity to have your voice heard regarding the use of the former Saint Patrick's-Alexandra School site.

Got a pitch? Send us an email at hmc@mediacoop.ca.

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