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EDITORIAL: More than just a building

It’s little wonder to see a push toward finding uses for the former Pictou Academy building. During the concern expressed in the past year and more to keep the high school students in the town – and the Academy, although now in a different building – it was plain that both the institution and the structure itself were held as an integral part of Pictou.

And so progresses the next chapter in that saga, just what to do with the old building, emptied last year and deemed surplus by the school board, with the property, building, keys and responsibility handed over to the town.

A meeting in Pictou earlier this week gathered together people who were eager to share thoughts and suggestions. It will be interesting to see where it all leads, and whether a workable solution emerges, but it’s plain there will be challenges in any bid to establish a use.

In cities and towns anywhere, but in particular locales with the character of Pictou’s landmarks, anyone with a feeling for heritage is saddened by the loss of such structures. It’s always worthwhile to weigh the pros and cons and make an effort to preserve where possible.

At Wednesday’s meeting, plenty of great ideas were put forward. Not surprisingly some of them tied in with the area’s centuries-old heritage, and a desire to promote culture.

A Celtic-flavoured cultural academy, for example, promoting the arts and providing a centre for teaching dancing, music, Gaelic language, pipes and drums is a tantalizing idea. It would certainly be in keeping with the founding cultural influences of Pictou. If it managed to put the place on the map as a place for students to immerse themselves in Celtic-oriented pursuits – or relating to a variety of cultures as some suggested – it would be a grand coup.

But that kind of project also tends to be something that gets established over the long haul. No one should anticipate quick success.

Plenty of other suggestions were offered and, as Mayor Jim Ryan said, that’s exactly the idea, to encourage discussion, uncover some ideas and find what people hope to see.

Keeping step with concerns presented about the old academy, the building is due for some substantial capital repairs. And general maintenance and utility bills such as for heat and electricity add up.

Another consideration in talking about what attractions or services could move into this space: Pictou, like many other smaller towns in Nova Scotia, already has buildings that could use some occupants.

It all represents a bucketful of aspects to address. As it stands, it costs the taxpayers money just sitting there. It would be a welcome sight to see it preserved and serving a purpose.

There’s no doubt it represents a venerable cornerstone of the community, cherished by many. With its most recent graduates having left less than a year ago, if it were to gain a new life, the personal bonds with the old academy would certainly be strong for another generation or two.

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