Council orders Digby Academy demolished

Jonathan Riley, Digby Courier
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The old red brick school between the Digby Courthouse and Trinity Anglican Church could soon be gone.

Digby town council voted unanimously at a special hearing on Monday, Jan. 7 to order the demolition of the former Digby Academy at 117 Queen Street.

“I’d hate like ‘h’ to see a firefighter or paramedic get hurt in there,” said councillor Bob Handspiker as he summed up a half hour of discussions with Ulric Schlawitz, the agent and spokesperson for Questionable Ventures Incorporated (QVI). “The fact is, it isn’t safe and you have no plans to make it safe.”

Richard Parry, the dangerous and unsightly property administrator for the town, told the hearing that the first dangerous and unsightly complaint against the property was filed in 1997. It listed broken windows, unkempt yard and building and a need for roof repairs.

“Here we are 16 years later and we see no progress on a number of deficiencies,” said Parry. “I’m asking council to consider issuing an order to demolish.”

Schlawitz said he dealt with the orders over the years as they came up and he suggested several times at the meeting that the condition of the building was the town’s fault because Parry had boarded up the windows.

“What would you do if you were in a company and the town treated your property that way?” said Schlawtiz. “What would you do to save it?”

He says the boarded windows invited vandalism and the theft of thousands of dollars of equipment he was using to maintain the building.

The municipal building inspector, Hubert Vroom inspected the property in January 2011.

His written report to council said it was time to be “very firm” with the owner, and recommended council call a meeting to issue a demolition order.

The process reached that stage in September.

At the special hearing though, where they could have ordered demolition, council instead directed staff to investigate the town’s rights and options around expropriation.

They also asked the new municipal building inspector, Alfred Doucet, to check the property one more time.

He found water dripping through the whole building from rain the day before, fallen plaster and lights and debris covering rotten floors.

“The building is not safe to use because of the danger of falling through the floors and the potential of a ceiling collapse,” reads his report. “The exterior bricks […] are not secure and could fall given the right conditions.”

The door to the basement had been “forced open for some time”.

At this week’s meeting deputy mayor Jean Brittain told Schlawitz he hadn’t given council any plan or idea to convince them not to demolish.

Schlawitz said QVI would consider donating the building to a non-profit society with access to grant money.

The town backed away from a demolition order several years ago after QVI met with Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia. But QVI nixed that deal when they discovered it didn’t involve any money.

The town talked to Heritage Trust again last fall to let them know of recent developments.

Schlawitz also told council he has “located” two independent building inspectors who have yet to inspect the building and he has spoken to some parties who might be interested in taking over the property.

Mayor Ben Cleveland told Schlawitz that council’s order to demolish didn’t have to stop Schlawitz from pursuing those plans.

“Though I question why you didn’t do it before,” said the mayor.

The order to be delivered by Parry will give QVI until February 28 to demolish the building.

Meanwhile Cleveland has instructed staff to obtain estimates for the demolition in case the town ends up having to do it themselves.

Council would probably vote again before okaying demolition, he says.

Any costs would then be added to the owner’s tax bill.

“I’d hate to see that building torn down,” said the mayor. “It’d be great if between now and then someone approached the owners with an offer to purchase and a plan to look after the place.

“Before the end of February when we have another decision to make.”

Organizations: Questionable Ventures, Digby Academy, Digby Courthouse and Trinity Anglican Church Digby town council Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia

Geographic location: 117 Queen Street, Cleveland

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Recent comments

  • Ulric Schlawitz
    April 28, 2013 - 22:00

    Hello from Ulric Schlawitz to all parties reading this. QVI Ltd. purchased the Old Academy in the mid-late 90s with a view to giving it back to the community, so to speak. When we took over the property we immediately began to to cleanse the interior of all detritis, we rebuilt sections of the roof and reshingled half of the entire roof. Agnes and myself lived in the building much of the time while we worked to bring the building back to life. Not to long into our workings on the building Frank Mackintosh asked me to attend a Town Council meeting to discuss what it was we were up to with the building. Our initial step in mind was to ready the basement to be used as a teen centre ; any 'profits' from this entire project were to be moved staight back into ongoing improvements to the building. Frank having requested on a Friday that I attend a meeting the coming Monday we worked hard to produce a detailed prospectus detailing other plans for the building which included among other things making a Seniors' drop-in centre, an outdoor mini-park (.5 acre) for any and all to use. I arrived at Frank's meeting around half an hour early and waited for the meeting to start. Immediately on start of the meeting Frank stated verbatim 'We won't be discussing the Old Red School today and you won't be getting your teen centre there'. I calmly queried as whether we could not briefly discuss the matter in an informal fashion especially given that I was requested to attend the meeting on very short notice. In reply to this Frank stood up and turned very red and verbalised very loudly and firmly that if I did not leave immediately he would have the police remove me. That is exactly how the meeting transpired; I leave nothing out and I have not embellished anything. Frank Mackintosh killed an effort that the building inspector at the time, Hubert Vroom, had deemed a viable project ; well prior to that fateful meeting he had toured the building in detail and was clearly pleasantly surprised and stated verbatim 'There really isn't alot you have to do here (to comply with building codes and safety).' Digby Courier reporter Jonathan Riley, insofar as he believes that what he writes in relation to the Old Red School has painted a grossly erroneous picture of its recent history. For example, at no point has QVI Ltd. blamed Richard Parry for problems in relation to the Old Schoolhouse. It is QVI's view that Richard Parry was carrying out the wishes of Frank Mackintosh. After Frank laid the aforementioned death sentence on the building and the projects in mind in mind for it, some of which were contingent upon grants that could have been received had the Town Council forwarded correspondences of support QVI was so shocked by this completely unforeseen negative outburst that it dropped any specific plans for the proprty and from thereon after merely tried its best with what was available to keep its potential alive. It is beyond me as what doings Frank Mackintosh has engaged in to have made him a 'Humanitarian of the Year'. I cannot but think that if Ben Cleveland was the Mayor back at that fateful time then the Old Schoolhouse building and property would be functioning as a place for the regular residents of Digby as a place for them, a place that is theirs in a Town that, in my view, really has very little to offer the residents and tends more to lay concerns and assistance toward business ventures -ventures that are for the benefit of the business owner and run largely from a tourism influx. It rather saddens me that not only did Frank Mackintosh kill a project wherein such a kill is counter to humanitarianism but also that The Digby County Courier's Jonathan Riley chooses to write a number of articles that are factually inaccurate.

  • Scott Dunn
    January 10, 2013 - 23:44

    Many many fond memories of my years spent in the Red School. It is such a great piece of land in the heart of my beautiful hometown! Why not turn the area into a family fun zone? A nice little picnic area, open field for the kids to play and a little area for water fun like sprinklers and a wading pool. All though the school is a landmark it is time to say goodbye, there must be room in the Admiral Digby museum for a piece of the Red School?Just a thought. P.S. I wonder if my green flash hockey sticks are still in Mr. Balser's grade six class?

  • Shannon Halliday
    January 10, 2013 - 20:17

    Back in the eighties that building was condemned. I was in grade 6 when it was considered no longer safe for people to be in. At that time pieces of aster were falling from the ceilings, now after almost 30 years of neglect it is being torn down. It is a shame noone ever took the innative to restore the building. There is supposed to be a time capsule behind the corner stone of the building, if it has not already been recovered I hope it will be..