The closure of J.L. Forster High School in 2014 was a blow to Sandwich, but the century-old building is beginning to blossom once again as a community hub after being purchased by the company that owns the Ambassador Bridge.
Canada South Science City is operating there in a limited capacity and should be fully up and running within a few months. The science centre lost access to its Marion Avenue location in 2015 and was grateful to find a new home on Felix Avenue in the empty school, which opened under another name in 1922.
- Canada South Science City has 60 days to move out
- Canada South Science City needs to move, future unclear
- Ambassador Bridge company buys J.L. Forster High School
It has already featured a small exhibit celebrating local black inventor Elijah McCoy, but more renovation work needs to be completed before all of its exhibits can be unpacked and showcased for public visits.
"There's a fair amount to done," said Bill Baylis, president of Canada South Science City. "It's a big, beautiful room with large garage doors. Needs a little fixing up."
Forster has been set up as a co-operative since being purchased by the Canadian Transit Company in 2016. The company wanted the sports fields to make room for a border plaza and buffer area but had no real use for the school building.
'All sorts of possibilities going on'
The science centre will have about 40,000 square feet of space and there are also community rooms available to other non-profit groups in the west end.
"There are all sorts of possibilities going on," said Baylis, who is working with architects to ensure the development of "a really nice science centre."
Having more people and groups in the building opens up possibilities like a science store and a cafe, he added.
Baylis hopes to have the centre at least partially ready so he can invite school classes by the end of November. He said the fossil dig and the human bubble and some of the larger exhibits will return.
"We won't be able to to wait until everything is finished before we have to do some opening, because we'll need some income," he said.
Baylis is hoping a distinguished guest will attract some attention. Local Grown Salads is a Toronto business that is setting up five of its patent-pending vertical farms in the centre.
"We've grown about 60 different vegetables," said Zale Tabakman, president of Local Grown Salads.
Each unit is about 32 square feet and grows an equivalent of about an acre worth of food a year. Each unit costs about $2,000 to run annually.
"This is patent pending technology that you're seeing here," said Tabakman.
The company has been working with Canada South Science City for about a year. They plan to have displays and classes showing how people can make these on a smaller scale and grow vegetables in their home year round.
"They can set it up in their basement, their kitchen, just using local things they can get in their hardware store," explained Tabakman.
Plans are in the works for a larger scale social enterprise project that could even create jobs for people tending the vertical farms and packaging the food.
"The production here will be used to fund the Forster building itself," said Tabakman.
The food would be sold at markets at normal price, but Tabakman is looking to give back directly to the Sandwich community.
"Another sub section of the farm will be set up to support the people of Sandwich, for people who need a little bit of help with the pricing on the food and this will help."