Redevelopment of the former Devine Street School site could start within months, says a local businessman who purchased the property in 2012.
“We’ve had the engineering and architectural work done for residential (conversion) and we hope to progress this year once we have the city’s approval,” said Charlie Dally.
Dally purchased the school site from the Lambton Kent District School Board for $50,000.
Initially, the vacant building at the busy intersection of Brock and Devine streets was a target for vandals, until Dally boarded it up and erected high fences.
Over the past four years Sarnia Police have received 19 calls for incidents related to the property, said Const. John Sottosanti.
“The calls have been for alarms and trespassing. Nothing outstanding,” he said.
Dally, who has developed several other properties in Sarnia and was among a group that attempted to purchase the Sarnia General Hospital site last year, said the Devine Street School property presents a good opportunity.
“I think it can be repurposed, probably for 30 to 40 residential units, but nothing is firm yet,” he told The Journal.
“Every property has its challenges and opportunities and I think we can do something there that will be very positive for the neighbourhood.”
The oldest section of the two-storey Devine Street School is more than 100 years old. Like Sarnia Collegiate (SCITS) just a few blocks away, it was the focus of an intense debate about school closure. After sparing the school once, trustees finally voted to shut it down in 2010.
And like SCITS, the Devine Street building has history and stature in the community, said Dally.
When he purchased the elementary school building it still had some asbestos in it, which has since been removed.
“That building has 14-foot ceilings and it’s brick. Every hallway is straight,” said Dally. “It’s worth repurposing. We’re trying to do something appropriate.”
Myles Vanni is executive director of the Inn of the Good Shepherd, located just east of the empty school. He said he’s relieved to hear redevelopment plans appear to be moving ahead.
“If SCITS is shut down, if nothing happens with Devine, and Sarnia General Hospital is abandoned too, that’s a significant impact on this neighbourhood,” Vanni said.
“A lot of businesses are going to suffer without redevelopment.”
As it was with Devine, the school board is embroiled in an emotional discussion with the south-end community over the recommended closure of SCITS or St. Clair Secondary School.
An accommodation review is underway with the final staff report going to trustees at the April 12 school board meeting in Sarnia.
Delegations can be heard at the board’s April 26 meeting but requests to speak must be received by emailing [email protected] at least four working days prior.
Trustees are expected vote on the final staff recommendation on May 10 in Sarnia. A location for that meeting has not yet been announced.