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Essex council approves first step toward former Harrow school becoming affordable housing

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On Tuesday night, town council voted to explore the possibility of converting the former Harrow High School into new high-density housing.

Essex Council voted in favour to have administration create a request for proposal at the space for land of the former Harrow High School Tuesday night.

Council sought a request for proposals to develop the property, which Essex Mayor Sherry Bondy wants to see issued following a public consultation process.

“After our tour [of the school], I couldn’t differentiate between the worst and the best of that building. It’s in pretty bad shape and sentiment aside, I think we’re doing the right thing,” said Essex Deputy Mayor Rob Shepley.

Council has also approved the $20,000 for a study to expand the nearby recreation centre in Harrow.

The study would explore a proposed expansion, adding about 14,600 square feet to the centre — at a cost of about $7 million — to allow for more community programming.

Despite four generations of his family having attended the former Harrow High School, Dennis Swarts is ready to see the land it sits on be put to better use.

He lives directly across from the building, which used to be filled with students until 2016. That's the year when Harrow High School closed, before it was eventually purchased by the Town of Essex.

Swarts said his children, parents, and grandmother — not to mention himself — have all attended the school as students.

"To see it be torn down would be tragic. But it's been sitting there doing nothing so they need to do something with it. That would be nice," he said.

The original plan was for the school was to transform it into a community centre. However, according to Bondy, that would cost at least $14 million.

Dennis Swarts, seen on Feb. 20, 2024. (Sanjay Maru/CTV News Windsor)

"So it makes sense to see if there's any developers out there who want to work with us to build multi-residential and mixed-use housing," said Bondy.

Much like the rest of the country, the need for affordable housing is growing in the Town of Essex.

Bondy points to the area's population of seniors who may favour living in condo or apartment-like housing to avoid maintenance tasks such as cutting the grass or shovelling the snow.

"There's also families coming into town that don't have places to stay. Maybe, if our seniors move in, we'll have more homes for families and it could potentially be a win-win," said Bondy. "The location is pretty good, too."

Council is looking for developers to come forward with proposals to best use the land for new homes.

That includes a focus on affordable housing.

The report brought to council on Tuesday indicated the building is in a sorry state.

Bondy said that as part of the move, she hopes to see a public consultation process done before seeking developer proposals.

The former Harrow High School sits right next to the Harrow and Colchester South Recreation Centre.

According to Bondy, many residents are only able to access the programming they want at the Essex Recreation Complex, which is about a half-hour drive away.

"I'm a mom with young kids. They've had a long day at school. You have to think about dinner. So you have an hour there-and-back of travel time taken out of your night," said Bondy.

As for the neighboring school site, town officials said plans to transform it into affordable housing are limited only to the land which the building sits — keeping surrounding green space in tact.

"I'm okay with affordable housing as long as the people who live here are good with the community. That would be awesome," said Swarts. "Harrow needs to grow a little bit because everywhere else is growing." 

 

Council votes on new school names

Also decided by council on Tuesday night were the names for two new schools in Tecumseh and Kingsville.

According to AM800, the new school that is replacing D.M. Eagle Public School in Tecumseh will be named Beacon Heights Public School, while the new Kingsville school will be named Erie Migration Academy.

Both schools are slated to open in September. 

—With files from CTV's Ricardo Veneza

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