Area councillor Brenda Johnson says she’s in talks with the public school board to see if the city can rent the former Winona Public School until trustees make a decision on whether to declare the property surplus.
Johnson said she’s pursuing having the city lease the building for a nominal fee to create a community centre in the interim.
“If we can’t buy it because they don’t want to put it on the surplus list yet, then why don’t we utilize it? Why don’t we take care of it, put the groups in there and get some things going now?” she said. “At the same time, the property will be attended to. Because right now, windows are broken, it’s getting to be an eyesore and it should never have got to that point.”
Johnson has long hoped the city could obtain the property at 255 Winona Rd. for a “much-needed” and “long-awaited” recreation centre.
The board has completed the public consultation phase, but has yet to decide to move to the next round of declaring the site surplus, which would allow a list of preferred agencies, including the city, to express an interest in purchasing it.
Johnson said Winona does not have an appropriate facility to provide recreation programs for all ages.
Residents in developed urban areas should not have to drive lengthy distances to get recreation services, she added.
“All we have right now is the Winona Scout Hut at Winona Park. It is not sufficient for the programming we want to bring in there,” Johnson said. “We did a rec survey last summer, we heard what people want. I have organizations that are interested in coming in (to the school), so let’s put it all together and get all the puzzle pieces in.”
Johnson said if the city were to rent the school it could take over maintenance costs of the building.
“The board has to pay for utilities and they have to pay for maintenance. I’m suggesting that, of course, if we have the building then we’ll take care of those costs; the little stuff we can take care of,” she said. “Those are the things we have to iron out. I’m pretty confident we’ll find it (the money to do it).”
Johnson said possible tenants could include community groups and service providers.
“We’re looking at not only just the city providing programming, but having service providers come in and do it as well. To me, it’s cost-efficient, we don’t have to hire the people that do it,” she said. “It’s a win-win – that’s how I’m looking at it – it’s just a matter of whether or not the board feels the same way. I understand that they have some liability issues too to take care of, so we just have to make sure we’re good (all around).”
Board spokesperson Rob Faulkner said there is “no definitive date” on when the board will make a decision on whether to declare the property surplus.
“All discussions with the city regarding the old Winona site have been very preliminary,” he said by email last week. “Formal discussions with the city about the potential of leasing the space have not yet taken place. The complexity/timing of an agreement would be dependent on the city’s requirements – entire school versus a few classrooms, etc.”
Johnson said, given all the challenges the board is facing right now, she understands why it hasn’t made a decision yet on declaring the property surplus.
“I can understand that they don’t want to make any quick decisions because they don’t want it biting them in the rear end later,” she said. “Having said that, let’s find an interim (use) where everybody can be happy.”