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Kirwan: City should acquire vacant schools

Incumbent Ward 5 candidate proposes turning surplus school buildings into community hubs and affordable housing
Robert Kirwan is the incumbent candidate in Ward 5 in the upcoming municipal election.

During the past eight years as councillor of Ward 5, I have gained a reputation on council and in the municipality as being an outspoken advocate for the repurposing of surplus schools into what we formerly referred to as "community hubs.” Up until now, I haven’t been able to convince my fellow city councillors of the potential benefit of these surplus schools.

Nevertheless, I feel that the next term of council is going to be different. The critical need for home care and affordable housing for our older adults has reached a tipping point, and I am confident that the stars are aligning for us to move forward in a positive direction which will allow aging in place to become more than just a catch phrase in the City of Greater Sudbury.

As co-chair of the Seniors’ Advisory Panel, I have heard members from various organizations in the municipality about the importance of supporting our seniors who want to live out their lives in their own homes and in their own neighbourhood. This is what the participants in the Seniors’ Summit 2019 also said. Therefore, if I am re-elected to a third term, I am going to make this a top priority of mine during the next four years.

Today, many municipalities are beginning to repurpose their surplus schools as "health & resource centres" which include a wide variety of health, social and recreational services in the facility, plus rental housing options that appeal to seniors who are looking for attainable housing within their community. 

As chair of the Planning Committee, I was so pleased this spring to see both the committee and council support a resolution that may finally bring our municipality closer than ever to establishing a network of health and resource centres throughout the City of Greater Sudbury.

The following resolution was passed without much fanfare, but it could very well be one of the most important decisions ever made by city council for our older adults. “That Staff be directed to undertake a review of best practices and prepare a report on a municipal strategy for utilizing surplus institutional properties for housing and community service provision by Q2 of 2023.”

I am asking for the residents of Ward 5 to re-elect me for another four years so that I have the opportunity to work with staff and council on a strategy that will ensure the effective and efficient repurposing of future surplus schools into Community Health and Resource Centres. And, what is even more exciting is that we have six schools in Greater Sudbury which are soon going to be declared surplus by their school boards. These schools can be utilized in order to implement this new strategy.

Valley East has three upcoming surplus schools that will be ideal for use as Community Health & Resource Centres. The schools are Ecole St. Therese, Ecole St. Joseph, and Ecole Notre Dame. The schools will be closed and declared surplus when a new school is opened in Val Therese some time in 2024 or before.

New Sudbury also has three surplus schools that will be available by the end of 2023. They include, Ernie Checkeris Public School, Carl A. Nesbitt Public School and Westmount Avenue Public School. These schools will be closed once Lasalle Elementary School opens in September 2023.

Each of the six properties mentioned above have plenty of room for a variety of housing options. There is space to build new row housing, town houses, or small garden suites. These rental units could be ideal for seniors who are living in the catchment area of the schools, thus freeing up their older, more affordable homes to young families who are looking for home ownership.

Community Health and Resource Centres offer a wide range of services right out of the existing classrooms. Each classroom has the potential to become an office/space for a different provider and there is very little that has to be done to the structure of the school in order to accommodate the new usage.

For example, Community Health and Resource Centres that have already been established in former schools in other municipalities around the province comprise not only affordable housing on the land around the school, but also include a wide range of services in the building, including, home care services, health promotional programs, crisis intervention services, outreach for seniors, legal and financial counselling services, youth services, child care services, multicultural and newcomer services, mental health and addictions counselling, primary health care services, social and recreational programs, food banks and food security services, and a wide variety of other social service organizations interested in renting out space so that they can be close to their clients. 

There is really nothing in the area of health and well-being services and programs that would not fit well in a Community Health and Resource Centre setting.

I’ve been advocating for this for the past eight years, so it is finally nice to see that we are on the verge of moving forward with this concept.

Community Health & Resource Centres could go a long way to meeting our goals of providing quality home care and affordable housing to our older adults in the coming years.

Robert Kirwan is the incumbent candidate in Ward 5 in the upcoming municipal election.