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Nursing home shows interest in redeveloping SCITS property

Cathy Dobson Vision Nursing Home on Wellington Street has expressed interest in redeveloping the 94-year-old SCITS building once the public school board closes it.
Vision Nursing home has expressed an interest in the former Sarnia Collegiate building. Journal Photo

Cathy Dobson

Vision Nursing Home on Wellington Street has expressed interest in redeveloping the 94-year-old SCITS building once the public school board closes it.

The high school isn’t slated for closure until 2017 or 2018, depending on when renovations are complete at the former St. Clair Secondary site.

However, the non-profit nursing and rest home has held a series of community meetings in October at which the possibility of a condominium development inside the school’s existing brick walls was discussed.

“We heard at our meeting that SCITS could have potential for them,” said Bill Chong, owner of Haines Printing directly across the street from the school.

“I hope they can repurpose the building,” he said. “It will be disastrous for this neighbourhood if it’s just boarded up like Devine Street School and the old Sarnia General Hospital.”

The spectre of another derelict building in the city’s south end might be motivating Vision, Chong suggested. Like Haines Printing, the nursing home is across the street from the imposing two-storey school building.

Last month, officials with Vision Nursing Home contacted neighbours, city reps, health-care planners and those involved in the fight to keep SCITS open. Focus groups discussed the strategic long-term direction of the nursing home, and surveys have been distributed to determine interest in a condo/loft development where the average selling price would be $185,000.

Participants at the meetings were asked how they thought Vision should grow as a business, and what sort of role Vision should play in the future redevelopment efforts in Sarnia’s south end.

“We were told their first priority is to preserve the building,” said Susan MacKenzie, who lives in the neighbourhood and is spokesperson for the SAVE SCITS committee.

“They don’t want to be located beside a boarded-up building any more than we do,” she said. “It was very clear that SCITS is part of their strategic business plan.”

Officials with Vision Nursing Home could not be reached for comment.

MacKenzie said she asked at the meeting if the nursing home, which is governed by a voluntary board of directors under the name Vision ’74 Inc., would consider keeping the SCITS 850-seat auditorium open for community use.

“They were not receptive to that,” she said.

Mackenzie said her committee’s first priority is to keep the school open. If that’s not possible, a repurposing such as Vision’s condominium concept would be welcome by the neighbours.

“Vision has a really good reputation in our community. Everyone in our focus group was supportive. But I have to wonder if interest from Vision was part of the decision to close SCITS and not St. Clair,” she said.

Kevin Edwards, the city’s planning manager, also attended one of the focus groups.

“There was a lot of discussion about what this community requires in future long-term care,” he said. “We were asked if they should consider this neighbourhood or other parts of the city for development.”SCITS to be closed by LKDSB

Edwards said it would make sense for Vision to consider the SCITS property because of its close proximity and its current zoning for community and residential uses.

“It would take a massive investment to redevelop the building,” he said. “But time is on their side.”

When a school closes, the Education Act requires the site be declared surplus by the school board, then offered for sale to other school boards, the county and the city, before going on the open market.

Vision ’74 Inc. has been slowly buying nearby housing properties in recent years and has built a retirement home that faces Brock Street, as well as a health practitioners’ clinic that faces Crawford Street. Both are attached to the original nursing home.

“It wouldn’t make sense to have a rotting hulk sitting right beside them,” said Edwards.

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