The score was tallied and in the end a company that builds affordable housing won out over a group hoping to acquire the former Barton school for a community centre.
The decision was announced during a contentious Municipality of Digby council meeting on Jan. 28.
There were close to 25 members of the St. Mary’s Bay Community Center in the audience and several questioned the outcome. The group has been rallying for close to a year to get access to the old facility to plan community events.
Vice-chair Tom Haynes-Paton says members have been working on various projects for the space, including survival programs, a community garden, café, square dancing, pre-school mother & baby programs and many more.
“We were going to be serving literally hundreds of people with all these programs. These things have all come to a halt at the moment,” he said.
“We feel betrayed.”
Haynes-Paton says representatives from the group fought long and hard for a chance to present their plan to council. He says they were only afforded a 10-minute presentation after they went to the provincial ombudsman and office of municipal affairs with a complaint.
The group was anticipating a phone call for an opportunity to present their plan in more depth, but when the call came it was to deliver the news that a low-income housing company had been selected to develop the property.
Digby Warden Jimmy MacAlpine says both non-profit groups - the St. Mary’s Bay Community Center and Compass Nova Scotia Cooperative Homes Ltd. - submitted ROIs (information for proposed use of the former school property).
Each councillor scored the submissions on a number of merits.
“Compass was the successful proponent,” said MacAlpine.
He says there was no need for another meeting with the community group because of the significant gap in the scores.
“The St. Mary’s Bay Community proposal received an average score of 54.4 whereas Compass Nova Scotia Cooperative Homes Ltd. had a score of 88.6. The spread was over 30 points.”
He added that any extra information pertaining to the project should have been clarified in the original ROI.
“It was very specific and very clear on what was required in the ROI,” the warden said.
“I know the community group was disappointed because they were hopeful that they were going to acquire the property, but with the Compass application, there’s also a component where they’re going to provide a community space in the building,” he added.
MacAlpine added that a study conducted on housing in the Digby area in the spring of 2018 indicated there was a big need for affordable housing in Digby County.
One of the findings in the Building Safe and Affordable Housing study was that 53 per cent of renters have difficulty finding housing that meets their needs.
“I feel bad that the community (group) put a lot of work and effort into that (project development), but on the same token, this other application, it just had the ability to serve the community as well,” he said.
Compass will be retrofitting the main building and adding additional housing on the site, which is on the Digby municipality bus route.
More about the Barton School
The Barton Consolidated School first opened its doors in January 1960 and closed in 2017. There were 61 students, five teachers and seven support staff at that time. The students were welcomed at Digby Elementary School after closure of their old school.