The ECDC’s attempt to support the vision of the McCauley residents
By Erica Marie
Nestled in between various places of worship is a landmark once known as Sacred Heart School. Built in 1908, it was the first Catholic school in the city, with 200 students in attendance. As the population grew, the school merged with St. Josephat School and was rebuilt in the 1960s.
Schools reflect the pattern of a neighbourhood’s development. Due to low birth rates, the aging population, and residents leaving the area, Sacred Heart School saw a decline in enrollment. This led them to close their doors in June of 2003. The neighbourhood did not just lose a school but a place of camaraderie between parents and children, which is an integral part of support within a community.
After the school’s closure, the Edmonton Social Planning Council (ESPC) was the lead tenant of the building and had subleased the area to seven non-profit organizations under the Sacred Heart Collective. They aimed to provide a low-cost space for non-profits and community members to hold meetings and fundraising events.
Their efforts to preserve an important community resource enhanced social inclusion within the neighbourhood of Boyle Street and McCauley. Organizations also benefitted from casual networking and an increase in recreational, educational, and cultural activities in the building. However, there was a challenge in keeping up with the building maintenance, proper staffing and security on site.
Photo of the Sacred Heart building
The Department of Learning Services and the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC), which offers language and literacy to Canadian newcomers, are currently operating out of the building. A not-for-profit childcare service called the McCauley Community After School Care (MCASC) can also be found at the north entrance of the building.
Neighbours reached out to the Edmonton Community Development Company (ECDC) when they learned that the Edmonton Catholic School District had put the building up for sale. The ECDC’s mandate involves providing sustainable, inclusive, and equitable social infrastructure that will benefit the neighbourhood and its residents.
Among the concerns raised by McCauley residents was the lack of community engagement from the school district to discuss mutually advantageous options for the use of the building. The neighbourhood is seeing numerous revitalization efforts and neighbours fear they will move backwards if the sale falls into the hands of investors whose visions do not align with the community.
A long-time resident chose to live in McCauley because of its strong sense of community, its rich diversity, and its walkability. They expressed their worry about how the sale could negatively impact their already fragile inner-city neighbourhood and said,
“We are retired and want to age in this neighbourhood. The future of Sacred Heart School has an immediate effect on our ability to do this as we live across the street from it. It will also affect our neighbours with children who may no longer find the street a positive place to raise a family.”
The ECDC responded to the neighbours’ request and made an offer with the school district incurring significant expenses during the due diligence process.
The organization performed an environmental site assessment, an asbestos assessment, and a building condition assessment this year. Karen Gingras, the Executive Director of the ECDC, disclosed the results of these assessments.
“The asbestos assessment identified a fair bit of asbestos which would cost up to $200,000 to abate. The building condition assessment raised alarm bells for us. The roof and the boiler system require immediate replacement, and a Class D cost estimate (high-level cost estimate) projected that we would need at least $1,000,000 in repairs within the first three years of operation.”
Considering these factors, the building would cost the organization more than it was appraised for, therefore, the ECDC offered to purchase the building at a price that would mitigate that risk. They also asked for the closing date to be extended to August 2023 to allow time to conduct a feasibility study and arrange financing for the purchase and the redevelopment as recommended by the feasibility study.
The school district countered with a request for a non-refundable deposit and a closing date of December 2022. Gingras reports, “We simply could not make things happen in that time frame, and we definitely could not afford to lose that deposit. As a result, we have ended negotiations with the school board.”
Many voiced their support for the ECDC’s intention to purchase Sacred Heart School to the District, including Councillor Anne Stevenson of Ward O-day’min,
“The value that ECDC will bring to this location cannot be overstated. This sale would be a transformative community building opportunity for both the McCauley neighbourhood and the City of Edmonton. The core tenants and goals of ECDC align closely with our City Plan; particularly with their commitments to mixed-use commercial and residential development and neighbourhood beautification.”
Unfortunately, the ECDC could not pursue the purchase of the Sacred Heart building and explore potential redevelopment options that would align with the community’s aspirations.