The Nova Scotia Supreme Court has sided with three community groups trying to block the sale of St. Pat's-Alexandra School by the Halifax Regional Municipality to Jono Developments. The decision was handed down Monday.
The groups went to court, arguing the HRM violated its own policy on disposal of surplus properties by going to a developer instead of offering the facility to them first.
'That's what this whole battle has been all about, is making sure we have a voice. That communities have a right to self-determine.' —Rev. Rhonda Britton
The Halifax Regional School Board declared the school surplus in 2008. The city announced the sale of the school property to Jono Developments in January, 2012. The issue has been the focus of many debates between council members, in addition to the court case.
The MicMac Native Friendship Centre, the North End Community Health Assocation and the Richard Preston Centre for Excellence took the city to court. Lawyer Ron Pink, who represented the groups, said the city didn't follow its own rules.
"They had a market value on the school at $4 million, and they sold it for $3 million and that's contrary to the Charter, they can't sell it for less than market value," he said.
The issue now goes back to city council. It will have to start the sale process from the beginning. Pink said his clients are still interested in the building.
"They want the school property, not the additional properties that are adjacent to the school," he said. "There's lots of opportunities for them and other interest community groups, and for perhaps even government to get involved and discuss concepts of low-cost housing in that area."
He added the school itself could also be turned into a community centre.
Rev. Rhonda Britton from the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church said she hopes this ruling will give them a second chance:
"That's what this whole battle has been all about, is making sure we have a voice. That communities have a right to self-determine and to have a voice in what happens, especially to school properties and public properties that have been invested in the community," she said.
"So we're hoping that's what they’ll do and give us an opportunity to make our proposal for the space. We hope that they'll find it to be a good proposal and say 'We can go forward with that.'"
The city does have the option to appeal.
Marian Tyson, the Halifax Regional Municipality's acting legal services director, said the city will take some time to review the ruling before getting further direction from council in a few weeks.
"The ruling clearly states that the procedure approved in 2000 should have been followed and that, by not following the procedure, the sale cannot proceed," said Tyson in a release.
"I'm sure the council will be much more concerned and reflective of the community needs next time," said Pink.