Pictou County council recommends selling former River John School

Published on April 19, 2017

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PICTOU -  County council has recommended that the River John School be put up for sale.

But there is a bit of a catch. It wants to see the prospective owner’s business plan for the building so that it does not become just another vacant building in the community.

The recommendation was brought forth after staff acknowledged the lease with the River John Action Society will expire the end of June and the building will be vacant.  The county has spent $50,000 in 2014-2015 to cover the cost of heat, lights and snow clearing and an additional $35,000 to date this year.

Council said in the past that the action society won’t be taking it over mainly due to the overall size of the building as well as existing halls in the community that can be used for activities.

The land the building sits on was donated to the municipality two decades ago by the MacGregor family for the purpose of building a school and will continue to be the property of the municipality.

“We are seeking direction on what the next step is,” asked CAO Brian Cullen. “Do we offer it for sale or repurposing proposals or are we letting the lease expire and tearing it down? What is the next logical step?”

Councillors were in favour of selling the property, some suggested that the county accept the best offer, but others wanted to be sure it was to someone who was going to make good use out of it.

“Well I guess, as a community, they have accepted the fact that nothing can happen with the school on June 30. It is a well known fact that the lease is up,” said Coun. Ron Baillie, who represents the residents of River John. “One of the issues is that if we put it up for sale no price, say we get an offer of $1,000, what happens if it is accepted and the building just sits there?  We will have to take it down so I think a business plan has to come with the price. If not we could be tearing it down in a few years.”

Baillie said the action society has been given permission to have the contents of the building and Pictou County 4H recently made use of cupboards, fridges, stoves, deep freezers and sinks for its new building at the exhibition grounds.

He said he doesn’t want to see the school demolished, but he also wants it dealt with properly.  He said if it is sold to someone at a low price, they could own the building, remove what they wanted for it and still leave it standing for the county to take down.

If it is left vacant and standing by the municipality, it will also cause hardship because the county will get calls from people wanting to use it for certain events and this will not be possible.

“The last thing the community needs is for that building to sit in derelict decision,” said Warden Robert Parker.  “It does need a set price and a plan.  If something going to happen we need to know and have confidence it will be a good thing for the community.”

Coun. Peter Boyles asked if a community group would be interested in the property, in particular the Royal Canadian Legion that is currently housed in an aging building, but Baillie said the school is too large for their needs.

It was suggested that the property be listed with a realtor for three to six months so that a decision can be made in the fall, at the latest, as to what to do with the building if it isn’t sold.

The county will be doing its own environment assessment on the building so that information will be available to a potential new owner.  

Baillie said if no owner is found and the building has to be demolished it could cost as much as $500,000.  Such an expense should be considered when council looks at preparing its upcoming budget as a precaution, he said.

A recommended motion to put the school up for sale with a business plan was passed and final approval will be sought at the May council meeting.