Not "Africville all over again"… not yet

Rev. Rhonda Britten may have been guilty of hyperbole when she compared last week’s city council decision to sell the former St. Patrick’s-Alexandra School to a local developer to “the rape… of a community… Africville all over again!”

But she is not entirely canary-in-the-coal-mine wrong.

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In 2009, Halifax Regional School Board—over the ongoing objections of the north-end community—decided to shutter St.Pat’s-Alexandra after the 2010-11 school year.

That suddenly freed up a tantalizing 3.85-acre chunk of valuable, edge-of-downtown real estate in a rapidly gentrifying poor neighbourhood.

Last summer, the city issued a call for proposals. Six groups—three for-profit and three non-profit—responded. After evaluating them, staff last week recommended a private developer’s proposal to tear down the school and replace it with a mixed residential/affordable housing/community space development.

But Britten, who is the well-connected pastor of Cornwallis Street Baptist Church, says she didn’t even learn about the call for proposals until 12 days before the deadline.

That’s interesting. Municipal policies call for residents to be consulted before the city invites proposals if surplus schools might have community uses.

Britten’s group did quickly manage to cobble together a plan to transform the former school into spaces for community. But staff scored that pitch—along with the two other non-profit community-based proposals—at the bottom of its evaluation sheet.

No wonder. “Community interest” wasn’t one of the criteria considered. Close to 50 per cent of the final score, in fact, was made up of the bidder’s financial capability and financial offer. Not easy hills for cash-strapped community groups to climb.

To add insult to injury, councillors—who routinely debate cat bylaws more times than Fluffy has lives, and who just put off a decision on a municipal stadium again—refused Coun. Dawn Sloane’s motion to defer a final decision on the school sale for a month because of alleged flaws in the process.

St. Pat’s-Alexandra isn’t, by itself, the new Africville.

But the community is clearly under siege.

Pushing out the poor in the interests of progress.

Where have we heard that before?

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Copyright 2011 Stephen Kimber, Website

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