With weeks left in their term, Digby council came close to making a decision about a heritage building whose fate has been a contentious issue in town for decades.
What to do about Digby Academy?
The Town called a special meeting – a meeting to seek an order for demolition of the 111-year-old “red brick school” on Tuesday, Sept. 4.
If a majority of councillors had voted for demolition at that time, the town would be looking at spending in the ballpark of $50,000 to demolish the building and then hoping to recoup that money from a landlord who admits he can’t afford to maintain the building as it is.
The building at 117 Queen St. was a school until 1984, when the Digby District School Board signed it back over to the town.
Ulric Slawitz, and two other parties in a company called Questionable Ventures Inc (QVI), acquired the building in 1997.
Slawitz says they had planned to establish a teen centre and a senior centre in the building. Grants he was applying for at the time asked for letters of support from the town.
Slawitz says meetings with the town and then mayor Frank Mackintosh came to an abrupt end.
“That put a hole in the whole project,” says Slawitz, who himself lived in the building for a time. “People have said we should have kept pushing ahead and gone to a higher government entity and in retrospect we should have, but this is what has caused the apparent sitting of the building from ‘97 to now.”
The building has been on Digby’s list of dangerous and unsightly properties for years. Special Constable Richard Parry told council at the special meeting Sept. 4, he has received several complaints of bricks falling from the building.
There is a large hole in the roof, shingles litter the grounds, and holes in the foundation, allow animals into the building, says Parry.
Slawitz for his part says, since the town made him board up the building, it has attracted vandals. This he says makes it very expensive to maintain the building.
To “protect” the property he has blocked the entrance inside with construction debris.
Councillor Danny Harvieux pointed out how dangerous that might be for any emergency personnel called to the building in case of fire or other emergency.
The town had threatened to demolish the building at least one previous time. A few years ago the town backed away from demolition after a deal was brokered involving Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia.
QVI backed out of that deal, says Slawitz, when they discovered the deal didn’t involve any money for QVI.
At the demolition meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 4, Mayor Ben Cleveland said something had to be done as the building had been neglected for years.
Councillors Jean Brittain and Danny Harvieux expressed their reluctance to tear down a part of Digby’s history. Mike Bartlett brought up the idea of expropriating the property.
Slawitz said at the meeting he would be open to that. He later he told the Courier he assumes the town would offer QVI reasonable payment for the building.
At the end of the meeting, council directed staff to investigate the town’s rights or options concerning expropriation and to have the building inspector check the building one more time to establish its condition.
This current council may not have time to make a decision on the property. The next full council meeting is Monday, Oct. 1 and then municipal elections are Saturday, Oct. 20.