New Brunswick

Old Moncton high 'jewel' to become space for arts, culture and business

The former Moncton high school will be renovated and repurposed to house non-profit arts and cultural organizations as well as some businesses under an agreement in principle with Heritage Developments, the provincial government announced on Tuesday.

Library move not part of Heritage Developments' plan, which includes buying building and part of field for $1M

Premier Brian Gallant did not say when Heritage Developments will take over the former school, how long it will take to redevelop, or which businesses will be tenants. (CBC)

The former Moncton high school will be renovated and repurposed to house non-profit arts and cultural organizations as well as some businesses under an agreement in principle with Heritage Developments, the provincial government announced on Tuesday.

"This has taken longer than some of you would have liked, but we got it done," Premier Brian Gallant told about 200 people gathered at the site for the 1 p.m. announcement.

The 82-year-old Gothic Revival-style stone building, which sat vacant for two years, "is part of Moncton's cultural fabric and it is important that we did everything we could to help the community save one of the most architecturally important landmarks in the city," he said.

Under the deal, Heritage Developments will purchase the former school and a portion of its athletic field for the full advertised price of $1 million and partner on renovations with MH Renaissance Inc., a volunteer group of local business people that had proposed the arts and cultural centre, dubbed MH35.

Heritage Developments will then lease spaces, such as the gymnasium and auditorium to various arts groups, said company vice-president of operations Ross Carpenter.

It will also have some businesses as tenants, said Carpenter, without disclosing any information about which ones.

"Our plan is to follow our model, to put together a mix-use commercial venue, which will ensure the longevity of the building," he said, describing it as "an architectural jewel."

"This majestic building deserves a second chance."

No details about when Heritage Developments will take over or how long the redevelopment will take were provided on Tuesday.

But many people concerned about the historic building's future expressed relief the first step toward preserving the structure has finally been taken.

The old school, an 82-year-old Gothic-style building in downtown Moncton, closed in 2015 when a new high school opened on the outskirts of the city. (Karin Reid-LeBlanc/CBC)

Entire building to be preserved

Some of the other proposals considered by the province could have resulted in the demolition of all or part of the iconic building, or in the province having to provide significant subsidies for the project to proceed, officials said.

The deal with Heritage Developments will celebrate the building's heritage and ensure it continues "as a symbol of permanence in Moncton," said Gallant.

Heritage Developments has restored several historic properties in New Brunswick, including the Capitol Theatre, Heritage Court, Marvens Place, and the Atlantic Lottery Corp. headquarters in Moncton, and Ganong Place in St. Stephen.

But Carpenter's father, company president Richard Carpenter, was also responsible for a deal that cost the province about $20 million.

He ran Industrial Rail, a company that bought and decommissioned passenger railway cars and refurbished them. It went bankrupt in 2013, taking provincial funding with it.

The company had received $10.5 million in loan guarantees in 2008, and in 2009 the provincial government offered a $7.5-million term loan and a $2.5-million non-repayable loan.

Gallant said Heritage Developments' track record speaks for itself.

"We know that that they have all the intention in the world to make sure that this building will continue to be an important part of the vibrancy of the downtown core here in Moncton," he said.

Library to stay put

MH Renaissance president Dennis Cochrane, who started working on the cultural centre proposal three and a half years ago, said he "didn't think it would take this long to get here."

But he described the announcement as "a resurgo moment," referring to Moncton's motto, which means "I rise again."

The group has dropped its controversial proposal to move the Moncton Public Library into the building, said Cochrane.

"It was never our intention to cause any division in our community," he said.

"That vision was not shared and we understand."

The group, which will run the performing arts aspect of the building, may still ask for public funds to renovate the old auditorium, he said.

Finance Minister Cathy Rogers, speaking on behalf of Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Bill Fraser, describes the redevelopment project as 'exciting.' (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Finance Minister and Moncton MLA Cathy Rogers called the redevelopment project "exciting."

It will complement other development projects in the downtown and "add to the city's growing reputation as the arts and culture hub of the Maritimes," she said, speaking on behalf of Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Bill Fraser.

The project is expected to generate short-term employment through construction and promote growth in the tourism and arts sectors, officials said.

The announcement comes just days after Rogers told reporters during a tour of the vacant heritage property that its future would likely be settled within a week.

Other proposals

There have been a number of proposals for the downtown property, which the province posted for sale in 2014.

City council wrote letters of support for the MH proposal, and for one from Terra Trust/Bird Construction, which remained a secret until CBC News confirmed the companies want to use the property for a new RCMP detachment.

The old school, which sits on 2.8 hectares, closed in 2015 when a new $34 million school opened on the outskirts of the city, near the Royal Oaks golf course.

It costs taxpayers about $250,000 a year to maintain the old building, including property tax, water and sewer, heating and security, provincial officials have said.

With files from Tori Weldon

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