Discussions to designate a significant heritage site in Niagara-on-the-Lake are not new, and will resurface at July's council meeting with a request to the Town to initiate heritage designation protection for the former Virgil Public School.
Coun. Martin Mazza will ask that the original one-room school building be protected.
The original building was constructed on a 3.75 acre site on Four Mil Creek Road in 1872. Despite several additions, the property maintained its original educational purpose, making it one of the oldest – some documents say the oldest – school still operating as such in the country, until its closure in 2011.
The site was traded by the District School Board of Niagara to Lloyd Redekopp and family, in return for the property on Niagara Stone Road where Crossroads Public School was built.
In January, 2011, council approved resolutions that the Municipal Heritage Committee research the potential of designating the former school and develop a recommendation for council's consideration, but later that year, when a Town staff report recommended designation, council deferred a decision.
A recent staff report again recommends the Town move forward to initiate designation, and notify the property owner of its intention to proceed.
Mazza says he's afraid the property could be the subject of a development proposal, and wants to ensure it's designated before that happens.
Councillors will deal with the report at the two July meetings. The report recommends “If council wishes to pursue designation, staff initiate conversations with the property owner to express that interest and report back to the MHC and council as appropriate.“
Mazza wants to make sure designation doesn't get deferred again, and so has given notice that he will make a motion for council to move ahead with the designation process, as it has with the Randwood Estate on John Street.
“During the last term of council, there was a very detailed report outlining the school as a very significant heritage property, but it didn't happen. Council wanted to wait and see what the property owner would do, to give him a chance to do it himself. I want to make sure that doesn't happen again.”
Mazza says he wants to see if council will take its responsibility to preserve heritage seriously. “I want to see if it's just about
Randwood or if it's about heritage. This property needs to be protected. We know the owner wants to do something with this property in the future. Let's make sure it's designated.”
Designation of the original building won't stop development of the rest of the property, which he “fully supports,” but would encourage the one-room school house be incorporated into any future proposals, said Mazza.
“It's important the timing is right.”