Plan to redevelop St. Vincent's High School shelved, but 'rejuvenation' effort arises

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After investing three years and $400,000 on plans to convert one of Saint John’s oldest high schools into 58 mixed-income apartments and a daycare, organizers say the project won’t fly.

“Financially, it’s just not going to happen at this time,” said Kevin McDonald, board chairman of the non-profit St. Vincent’s Apartments Inc.

McDonald said it would cost at least $12 million to redevelop St. Vincent’s High School, which opened in 1902 and has sat vacant near St. Joseph’s Hospital since 2002.

“When you start to get into the components of what’s in that property that you have to eliminate in today’s society — the asbestos, the piping. That cost alone was $1 million,” he said.

kevin-mcdonald Plan to redevelop St. Vincent's High School shelved, but 'rejuvenation' effort arises

Kevin McDonald is the board chairman of St. Vincent’s Apartments Inc. (Brian Chisholm/CBC NEWS)

New apartment building

While the group did manage to raise $9 million and obtained charity status so benefactors could get tax receipts for further donations, the final funds never came through.

“It didn’t materialize,” said McDonald.

As a result, the $9 million will be redirected into new construction on the empty lot next door.

conway-house Plan to redevelop St. Vincent's High School shelved, but 'rejuvenation' effort arises

Conway House, a new 24-unit apartment building for mixed-income tenants, will be built on the empty lot next to the old St. Vincent’s High School. (Brian Chisholm/CBC NEWS)

McDonald said it’s enough for 24 apartments in a four-storey building called Conway House. Half of them will be subsidized and the other half offered at market rent.

The new design will also incorporate a daycare to be operated by Heather Hamilton, who owns a licensed daycare on the city’s west side.

“I think sometimes you can move forward in a different direction and it’s healthy,” she said when reached by phone on Tuesday.

Hamilton said she’s still waiting to hear how many children the new space might accommodate.

Inside St. Vincent’s High School 15 years after it was shuttered1:31

Hope remains for St. Vincent’s

McDonald said there’s still hope that the old high school will get another life. He thinks a commercial development might be a better fit.

He said he doesn’t know how much the property owner, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saint John, has to pay to cover expenses from property taxes to heating and insurance.

“As it sits there, it’s costing something,” he said.

“But it’s a million dollars to tear it down.”

st-vincent-s-apartments Plan to redevelop St. Vincent's High School shelved, but 'rejuvenation' effort arises

A rendering of the proposal to redevelop St. Vincent’s High School. That vision is on hold, however, because the project is too costly. (CBC)

McDonald said he’s hoping to start the new construction on Conway House before next winter.

He said it’s going to be an important addition to the Waterloo Village area, one of Saint John’s low-income neighbourhoods.

“This is all about people,” he said.

“What we’re going to do is bring back human beings, young people and an early education centre.

“There is rejuvenation coming and [we] want to be a part of that.”

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