Turn vacant Sudbury school into community hub: city councillor

Sudbury city councillor Robert Kirwan wants to see Pinecrest Public School become a community hub. The public school shut its doors earlier this year. Kirwan wants the city to buy the property for community services to relocate to.

Robert Kirwan wants the city to buy Pinecrest Public School to create shared space for community partners

Pinecrest Public School in Val Caron, Ont., sits vacant. City councillor Robert Kirwan wants to see the building used for a hub to house various community agencies and services. (Facebook)

Robert Kirwan thinks the vacant Pinecrest Public School could be home to a variety of community services.

The school in Val Caron, Ont., is one of several in the city closing over the next two years.

The city councillor for Ward 5 thinks the building should be repurposed into a community hub, a space for agencies like the Good Neighbours Valley East Food Bank or local health care providers.

Kirwan wants the city to buy the property, and thinks the same could be done with other surplus schools.

"If we can keep these schools as very purposeful and providing a service to the people who are living there, then I think we can keep that neighbourhood and that community alive."

What is a community hub?

In 2015, the province established an advisory group to support the development of community hubs.

Each hub is a space where multiple services can come together locally, says Dawn Palin Rokosh, director of the community hubs division at the Ontario Ministry of Infrastructure.

"These are communities and neighbourhoods that are really able to understand what the local needs are, and think about new ways that are relevant to the local community in providing needed services."

She says community partners come together to address the needs of their local population through a hub.

"Some communities consider their schools to be community hubs and they offer wrap around services to meet a variety of needs, such as child care, youth mental health services and other services to support the children and the family of the local community," Palin Rokosh says.

However she admits a great deal of effort is needed to forge good partnerships between the various partners and sustain those relationships.

The province has created a new online resource tool to provide templates and information to communities that may be developing hubs.

Pinecrest could be model for future hubs

Kirwan says Pinecrest Public School could be a model for future hubs in the city.

"I'm hoping that once we repurpose it into a community hub, the template will then be established so that we can repeat the process with other schools as they're coming up."

He'd also like to see the land where these surplus schools are located be used to develop affordable housing.

"I think these community hubs, with these surplus schools are really going to be embraced. We just have to take the step forward, and make sure the city maintains possession of these [buildings]."

The decision to purchase the school is expected to come to city council in the next few weeks.

With files from Robin De Angelis