Council orders Digby Academy demolished

Jonathan Riley, Digby Courier jriley@digbycourier.ca
Published on January 8, 2013

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.”

jriley@digbycourier.ca