Selling of SCITS could face historic complications

Former SCITS high school BlackburnNews.com file photo.

The sale of the former SCITS high school in Sarnia could be impacted by a group looking to preserve the property.

The Sarnia Heritage Committee has recommended designating the city’s second oldest building under the Ontario Heritage Act to help ensure its conservation — the Lochiel Kiwanis Community Centre is the oldest building in Sarnia.

City Director of Community Development Services Stacey Forfar said MHBC Planning is currently evaluating the site.

“At this time a consultant has been retained to advance work on what we would call sort of a historic impact statement. It’s essentially going to look at the building and determine if there are heritage features worth conserving through a designated bylaw. It’s really just the backgrounder ahead of a designation,” she said.

Forfar said the evaluation should be complete before the new year.

If SCITS is designated under the act, property owners, the municipal heritage committee and municipal staff would work together to ensure that changes to the property respect its value.

The Sarnia Heritage Committee is working alongside the Sarnia Historical Society to protect that cultural heritage value.

Society board member Meghan Reale said the goal is to save the building from ever being torn down.

“There is really not going to be a huge impact on the sale of the building [if it’s designated under the Ontario Heritage Act]. I think there is a lot of misconceptions about the designation, but over time it’s been shown that it doesn’t impose any additional expenses on the owner, it doesn’t prohibit any building alterations or additions for any owners, and it doesn’t affect the resale value of the property itself,” said Reale. “Personally at the Sarnia Historical Society, we come in with a vision and a mission to preserve historical, architectural and natural heritage of our city, and we see SCITS as an integral part of that mission.”

The Lambton Kent District School Board declared the now 98-year-old building surplusĀ it needs during its August 27 board meeting.

School Board Superintendent Brian McKay said they’re aware the Sarnia Heritage Committee is hoping to designate the property under the Ontario Heritage Act.

“We would have to see what the Heritage Committee is proposing at that time just to see if there is any impact on a potential sale of the property,” he said.

McKay said the board is currently working on the appraisal so it’s ready to go if and when they do receive any interest in the property.

“The first stage is preparing letters that we would then provide to other public sector organizations and they have first right of refusal on whether any of those public bodies are interested in the building,” said McKay. “So once the letters are out, we have 90 days to accept and receive letters and respond to any interested parties.”

Last year marked the end of classes at the Wellington Street school and students relocated this month to the new Great Lakes Secondary School on Murphy Road.

McKay said they’re still working on completing the expansion and renovations.

“I think there’s obviously going to be some growing pains because we still are doing some construction in the building, and as with any construction project there is always a number of cleanup items leftover from the construction piece that we’re still working through with the contractor,” said McKay. “So we continue to do that in the existing building, as well as working with the contractor to get the addition done.”

McKay said they hope to have the entire project complete before the new year.

“We get that we would have loved to have the building 100 per cent complete for move-in, so we definitely appreciate the patience of staff and students as we finalize all of the final items, and they’re really our eyes and ears in the building now as well so any items they bring to our attention we’re making sure that we look after those too,” said McKay. “As far as the timing on the addition, we’re still looking and pushing the contractor to get that done as soon as possible. We’re probably looking for that last piece, the auditorium, hopefully [complete] no later than Christmas. As far as the other pieces, we’re continuing to work with the principal and staff there on items they’re finding that they bring those to our attention so we can address them.”

The education ministry provided $10.3 million towards the $25 million project.