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Essex poised to purchase former Harrow High School and surrounding property


by Sylene Argent 

Last week, the Town of Essex announced it is expected to purchase the former Harrow High School, with the acquisition to be finalized on Friday, December 3.

  The intention is to expand the current recreation opportunities in Harrow, enhance the greenspace, and increase access to the property by directly connecting Pollard Park, information from the Town of Essex on the matter notes.

  The facility is located adjacent to the Harrow and Colchester South Arena, Participark, and the Harrow Fairgrounds.

  Councillor Sherry Bondy, who is the municipal rep for Harrow residents on Essex Council, was excited about the news.

  “I’m thrilled. It is finally the right move for Harrow. We needed to secure the greenspace, absolutely, and the [Greater Essex County District] School Board’s policy is not to sever. At the end of the day, we ended up with both the building and the greenspace.”

  This is Council’s chance to have a community hub in Harrow, she added. “Now, we are growing. This is why we can justify it.”

  Bondy has spoken out in the past for the need for a community hub in Harrow, in addition to the importance of securing that several acres of greenspace surrounding the building, as it connects to parkland, houses a women’s ball diamond, and offers a walking track.

  “The people in Harrow always thought of it as our recreational space, because we had access to it and a good relationship with the School Board,” Bondy said. “If we lost that, it would really be like gutting our recreational core.”

  She expressed concern in the past that if the Town did not purchase the property, the opportunity to secure all that greenspace could be lost to a private investor for development.

  As of right now, there are no official plans for the building and property, however, she said there is $60,000 in the 2022 Budget to look at assessing the building that could be approved. “That’s a good start. We need to start looking at how much money the building needs, what is feasible in the future, and where do we go to from here.”

  She wondered if one of the school’s wings could be prepared for use, before the other, just to get things rolling.

  The community of Harrow and Colchester, she said, “is really excited.”

  “The people in Harrow and Colchester want the same access to programs and facilities that other Wards [in the municipality] have,” she said, adding it is important to have balance. Developments are coming to Harrow, but amenities are not being developed at the same rate.

  She also believes there is the potential for savings if the Town consolidates some of its existing buildings.

  Bondy noted she has been contacted by individuals who would like to rent space at the facility. “I think we can do it where it is not going to cost the taxpayers a lot of money…we need to see who is interested.”

  For instance, in June, the All Canadian Hockey School (ACHS), a private school for elementary school-aged boys, approached Council about possibly leasing the second floor of the Harrow Arena for one-year. As the Town did not own the facility, the school ended up agreeing to a lease for the second-floor at the Harrow Arena in July, after first also exploring the possibility of utilizing the Lions Hall.

  At the April 19 Council meeting, Essex Council extended an invitation to the GECDSB to attend a future meeting of Essex Council to discuss the former Harrow High School property. Later, at a meeting in May, Bondy wrote a letter to Council that noted she had received over 150 emails from within the community, noting residents do not want to lose the greenspace.

  Mayor Larry Snively said he will host a press conference at the high school site on Friday to comment on the matter and provide further details about the planned acquisition.

  Before the Budget Walkthrough meeting on Monday evening, Snively thanked Council, Administration, and representatives from the Greater Essex District School Board for working closely together on the matter.

  “I know, as a Council and as a Mayor, we have spent five or six-years on this issue of acquiring the greenspace that we needed at the Harrow High School grounds. We were successful in negotiations on buying the property,” which included the building.

  “We all know we need that greenspace,” he said, adding there are no future plans for the high school currently. That will likely be up to the next Term of Council.

  He said over the weekend he received many calls from businesses and individuals who were upset about the acquisition. “We had to purchase the school to get the land,” he said.

  In addition, Town of Essex Director of Legislative Services/Clerk, Robert Auger, said at the May 17, 2021 closed meeting, Council for the Town of Essex gave its Administration direction to contact the GECDSB to advise of the desire to purchase the former Harrow High School property.

  At a closed meeting held on July 12, Council directed Administration to make an offer to purchase the former Harrow High School property at an offering price equal to the fair market value of the property. At a closed meeting held November 15, Council was advised the School Board was agreeable to the offer to purchase the property. And, even though it was still subject to Council approval, Council directed administration to finance any future purchase of the former Harrow High School property from the Landfill Reserve Fund.

  At Monday’s meeting, Council formally approved a resolution to approve the purchase and the financing for the purchase in the amount of $845,900.