Town looks to arbitration to settle dispute with WECDSB over St. Bernard School

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Frustrated over talks to buy the former St. Bernard School, the town of Amherstburg is looking to have the matter settled by an arbitrator.

As the result of an in-camera session Monday night, town council agreed to have CAO John Miceli pursue the matter as the town and the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board have been unable to finalize what the fair market value for the former school building, located at 320 Richmond St., should be

The town has been looking to purchase the school building after it was declared surplus by the Catholic school board, said Miceli, with the intention of using it as a “community hub” centred around senior citizens.

Miceli said the WECDSB’s counteroffer to the town was $100,000 more than the $650,000 that the board had it appraised at. A subsequent offer came in at $25,000 higher than the appraisal.

“It’s been extremely exhausting working with the Catholic school board. When you look at bargaining in good faith between public entities, I find this very difficult especially when there’s a community use and a community benefit,” Miceli stated.

The town is interested in purchasing the former St. Bernard School but are locked in a dispute with the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board on what the fair market value is.

The CAO believes there is “a total disregard for the town of Amherstburg and its residents.”

A master seniors plan has been included in the 2018 budget, Miceli noted, and the community hub proposed for the site would help to address seniors needs and issues.

“All of the plans we have for the property are supported by our community strategic plan,” said Miceli.

The town is trying to protect the ratepayers of Amherstburg through this process, he added, with both he and Mayor Aldo DiCarlo pointing out the property has been public for years with public tax dollars maintaining it. Miceli added the town is taking “a very strategic approach” to acquiring the land and has followed the process “to a T.”

There is a plan on how to fund its purchase, should it occur, he added but couldn’t release it at the present time as there are other issues in play that can’t be disclosed publicly at this point. He did state there are “synergies” between the proposal for the St. Bernard School site and the possibility of a new public high school being built next door at Centennial Park.

“As soon as the school became available, we came up with a plan to benefit the community,” said DiCarlo. “We found a way to re-purpose (the school building) so it can continue to be beneficial to the community.”

DiCarlo said it has been a “frustrating” process in working with the Catholic board and trying to realize the town’s vision for the property.

Stephen Fields, communications co-ordinator with the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, said the Education Act calls for property matters to be discussed by the committee of the whole board and stay confidential.

“As a rule, we do not discuss property matters in public,” said Fields. “Those are the guidelines we operate by.”

Asked for reaction on the town’s stance on the matter, Fields reiterated the board does not comment on property matters.

“There’s a process for all negotiations and we followed the process,” said Fields. “Part of the process is maintaining confidentiality.”

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