Another piece to improving Ancaster’s downtown has just fit into Councillor Lloyd Ferguson’s puzzle.
The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board has accepted the city’s offer to purchase the former Memorial School property, confirmed Ferguson.
Jackie Penman, the board’s corporate communications manager, confirmed in an email the board did receive a “bona fide” offer for Memorial School.
But it “can’t disclose the sale, including the name of the purchaser until the sale is closed,” stated Penman.
The closing date for the sale is Sept. 15. Ferguson can’t release the sale price until after the sale is finalized.
“This is definitely a legacy project for the community,” said Ferguson. “This is big news for Ancaster.”
Purchasing the school property has been on the councillor’s wish list since he ran for re-election in 2010.
The idea, said Ferguson, is to convert the building into an arts and cultural centre that includes a 400-seat theatre, an idea that was first proposed a couple of years ago during a community discussion hosted by Ancaster Heritage Village Business Improvement Area chair Bob Wilkins.
Other ideas for the property include building more parking areas for local businesses, constructing seniors housing and establishing an alternative location for the Ancaster Farmers’ Market.
Ferguson said acquiring the school property will integrate well with a rejuvenated Wilson Street, especially with Fieldcote Museum nearby, the renovations of Tisdale House and Hamill House, the upgrades done over the years at the Municipal Service Centre and pedestrian-friendly projects that have been incorporated throughout the downtown area.
Ferguson said even before the sale closes, he wants to hold a couple of public meetings to discuss a plan for the property. He said various organizations, including the Rotary clubs, have indicated they want to assist in the development of the school lands. Ferguson has also talked about using 1.5 acres of the land to build seniors housing.
The school board declared the 1.7-hectare property at 357 Wilson St. E. surplus in 2013. The city put in an offer to the school board in May.
The provincial agency Municipal Property Assessment Corporation assesses the property at $2.5 million in 2014. In 2013, MPAC assessed the property at $2.4 million.
The school board expects to receive market value for its properties, as required under the Education Act.
City staff did review the property, said Ferguson, and councillors agreed during an in-camera meeting to make an offer they determined was fair.
There is about $1.5 million in the Ancaster reserve fund, but Ferguson has said that may not be enough to buy the entire land.
The single-storey building, constructed in 1947, has a floor space of $28,960 square feet. The school closed in 1979, and from 1980 to 2008 it was used for administrative space for the board.
It was the first large graded school built in Ancaster. Memorial opened with six classrooms, a nurse’s room, principal’s office, washrooms, staff rooms, furnace room, auditorium and stage. The grounds include a parking lot and baseball field.