Harrow residents call town 'stagnant' two years after high school closes
Locals also worried about school sitting vacant, becoming an eyesore in the community
Two years after Harrow's only high school shuttered, locals feel their community is "stagnant" when it comes to growth.
At the same time, residents don't want Harrow District High School to sit vacant for years, decay and become blight in the community similar to the nearby junior school that's been empty for several years.
"Young families are hesitant to move here because of the lack of a high school," said Tracy Craig, a long-time Harrow resident. "Definitely, that impacts growth of business, it impacts the growth of the community. So, I would say it's significant."
We're figuring out the new Harrow, now that the school has closed.- Sherry Bondy , Ward 4 councillor
Others feel the high school was a "key component" to the community. When the high school closed in 2016, it left a "huge hole" in the community. Roughly 220 students are no longer a part of Harrow Centre.
"Growth here is kind of stagnant," that's Catie Hildenbrand's perception since the high school closed.
Hildenbrand is one of those families who stuck around. She was born and raised in Harrow, and lives there with her two young children.
Since the closure of Harrow High, she feels "the future of Harrow is limited."
"I think that is a big part of everyone's concern. They see very little growth and the correlation to the closure of the high school is a big one," Hildenbrand said.
However, Harrow's future looks bright, according to the town even though latest Census numbers show its population remained static from 2011 to 2016 with about 2,700 people.
Housing development in the works
Economic Development Officer Nelson Silveira points to a housing development in the town that's in its early stages called Greenleaf Trails. Construction hasn't started yet, but the plan has room for up to 200 single family and semi-detached homes in the heart of Harrow, on Walker Rd. near Colio Estate Wines.
"We've come up with innovative ways to kind of spur that development. We've waived residential development charges in Harrow," said Silveira, who estimates the company is saving $9,000 per home with that incentive.
With a building boom on the horizon for an undeveloped piece of land, many are hoping to see the Harrow high school building developed as well.
Future of Harrow high building?
On Monday, Essex Town Council plans to discuss purchasing some of the adjacent recreational land — not the building itself. A big reason for wanting to buy some of the green space is to maintain access to the town's baseball diamond.
Once the school hits the open market, there are plenty of ideas for the old school. It even qualifies for incentives under the town's community improvement plan.
"I would love to see a long-term care facility, or another residential home or even some flex housing — some duplexes or single detached," said Sherry Bondy, Ward 4 councillor who's seeking re-election.
"We're figuring out the new Harrow, now that the school has closed," she said.
Candidate pushes seniors community
Her election opponent and Ward 4 candidate, Paul Innes, wants to zero in on the "empty nest development." He says long-time residents have been leaving Harrow over the years because they can't find the type of housing they're looking for.
"If we're going to be a seniors community, then let's be the best darn seniors community we can be," said Innes.
The re-development of the Harrow high school could be used as a multi-storey condo or apartment building, Innes suggests.
What many don't want to see is the building sit empty for years. That's the case at the Harrow District Elementary Junior School. It closed in 2012 and hasn't been touched since then.
The public school board no longer owns it, though. It has been in the hands of a private developer since 2014.