Town of Lunenburg says they cannot say why they are pursuing sale of Lunenburg Academy



(The Lunenburg Academy in March 2023. Photo: Jesse Ward)

The Town of Lunenburg says they cannot speak to why they are pursuing sale of the Lunenburg Academy building, because this decision was made during a private “in camera” meeting of Town Council.

The Town of Lunenburg sent the Lunenburg Academy Foundation (LAF), a public charity, a letter of intent to offer sale of the property in April 2022 – a letter that came as a surprise to the LAF, who was initially given 90 days to respond.

The LAF expects results of a feasibility study in May to determine how they should treat the offer.

The Town of Lunenburg is not ruling out exploring other options for divesting the property should the LAF not accept the offer, saying they will reassess options at that time. 

Town says they cannot say why they decided to offer sale of the Academy to the LAF

News that the Town of Lunenburg considered divesting the Lunenburg Academy as a “high priority” and made Parks Canada aware of this intention in April 2022 was broken by a story published by The Lunenburg Barnacle on April 6.

On April 7, The Town of Lunenburg published a post to their Facebook page indicating they offered sale of the property to the LAF in April 2022:

“In April 2022, the Town of Lunenburg sent a letter of intent to Offer Sale of the Lunenburg Academy to the Lunenburg Academy Foundation.

In their 2022 annual newsletter, Rachel Bailey wrote “A feasibility study will be undertaken to figure out what is possible and what is best for our beloved Castle on the Hill.”

Currently, the Lunenburg Academy Foundation is completing due diligence by way of this study.

We will continue to work with the Foundation as we move forward with this initiative.”

On April 10, The Barnacle asked Michael Best, Communications Manager with the Town of Lunenburg, via email, “Why did the town decide to pursue the possibility of offering sale of the Academy to the LAF?”

Best replied, “We cannot, at this time, speak about an in-camera item.”

On the March 22, 2022 meeting of town council, the last one before the April 1, 2022 letter to Parks Canada announcing the town’s intention to divest the Academy Building, there is one reference to the Academy.

Council had a private “in camera” session. A provision in the Municipal Government Act allows town council to meet in private “in camera” sessions for certain matters including plans to lease, buy or sell property.

The in camera session in this meeting carried a motion privately regarding the Lunenburg Academy:

Asked to share the letter of intent to offer sale of the Academy that the town sent to the LAF, Best says, “We cannot, at this time, release an in-camera item. However, if the LAF decides to – that’s up to them.”

Lunenburg Academy Foundation president says they were “taken aback” by the offer, expects feasibility study to conclude in May

The Town of Lunenburg owns the property that hosts the Lunenburg Academy Building, which is a National Historic Site of Canada. The Town maintains the property through the town budget and manages leases for the community organizations renting spaces in the building. 

The LAF is a public charity that started as an alumni association in 1981 when the building was still an active school, a role it played in the community since 1895. 

Once the building ceased being a school in 2012 and was taken over by the Town of Lunenburg, the LAF’s role shifted towards fundraising for capital projects to renovate and restore the building, and other responsibilities regarding the preservation and heritage management of the site.

Rachel Bailey, President of the Board of Directors of the Lunenburg Academy Foundation, was Mayor of the Town of Lunenburg for two terms from 2012 to 2020.

She says that after she decided to not offer for re-election in 2020, she chose to volunteer with the Academy, a file very dear to her, with the expectation that the role of the foundation would grow.

There needed to be a sustainable model for the building to be maintained, the foundation had always raised money and contributed to the building’s welfare, and the foundation would have to do this at a larger scale in the coming years. 

“But, certainly full ownership was not something that I had anticipated when I myself joined the board of directors of the foundation,” she says in a phone interview.

The LAF received a letter of intent to offer sale of the Lunenburg Academy building from the Town of Lunenburg on April 14, 2022 by surprise, giving the foundation 90 days to make a decision.

“We were quite taken aback and weren’t quite sure how to how to handle the proposal,” says Bailey. She says the letter came one week before the foundation’s annual general meeting where half of the board members were replaced with five new individuals.

“So we went ahead with our annual meeting and then had to sort of attempt to acclimatize, because folks had agreed to serve in a volunteer capacity with sort of one agenda in mind,” she says.

“Then, certainly, our priorities changed quite drastically and we sort of had to figure out what to do about the proposal that was made to us.”

“We looked at our options and were given quite a short timeline to respond. So we responded that we didn’t feel we could fully respond to the offers,” says Bailey.

“We had minimal discussions with the town because they didn’t give us a lot of opportunity to have candid, full discussions with them as a group. We felt that we needed to undertake a feasibility study, that just seemed like the only way forward for us.”

The LAF successfully sought funding from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the Province of Nova Scotia, who have previously invested in restoring and maintaining the building, to pursue a feasibility study.

They put out a call for proposals for a study and chose Group ATN Consulting Inc. based out of Halifax. The study is analyzing the operations of the academy, what it takes to run it, and will advise on what the membership organisation or group that runs it should look like.

The study started in March 2023 and the LAF hopes to have their report by the end of May, which will be more than a year after the offer from the Town of Lunenburg was initially made.

“We were given a very tight timeline and thankfully, we were not held to every deadline that was put to us,” says Bailey.

“We’ve tried to stay in communication with the town and and have always been diligent in trying to figure out how to appropriately address the proposal. But we’re concerned about what the alternative may be and even more so, having seen the letter you uncovered.”

“If we didn’t respond positively, you know, what was the alternative to that?”

Bailey says that negotiations have long existed between the Town of Lunenburg and the LAF on how the two organizations should best co-operate to continue to run the building, both on past boards of the LAF and past Town Councils she was part of, but it was all cast aside when the proposal was put to the LAF.

Bailey says the letter of intent for an offer of sale of the building came to the LAF as a  confidential correspondence.

“So we initially weren’t quite sure how to legally handle it, frankly, as a volunteer board.”

Bailey says the LAF board determined the details of the offer should remain confidential, but “the price tag was certainly very favourable as far as we were concerned.”

She says it was the other implications of ownership that were a greater cause for concern for the LAF, which led to them pursuing the feasibility study.

Bailey says the LAF is happy that the community is more aware of what the situation is now, and that she would love to hear more about how more people feel about what should happen with the building.

She emphasizes the LAF is a public charity that welcomes input and support from anybody who recognizes the importance of the Academy. 

“We’re accountable to our donors and our supporters and everyone who has contributed through tax dollars and other levels of government,” says Bailey, “And we feel very responsible for stewarding the future of this building. So, you know, I’m happy to have input and help from anyone who’s willing to offer it.”

Town says they will reassess options for divestiture if the LAF does not accept offer

On April 11, The Barnacle asked Michael Best, Communications Manager with the Town of Lunenburg, via email:

“If the LAF does not accept the offer, is the town open to pursuing other opportunities for divestment of the Lunenburg Academy building, or will the town cease pursuing divestment of the Academy?

Additionally, if the LAF does not accept the offer, does the town have any other opportunities for divesting the Lunenburg Academy they are aware of and considering to pursue at that time? If so, can you share what they are?”

Best replied, “The only option we’re pursuing at this time is divestiture of the Academy to the Lunenburg Academy Foundation. If that is not successful, we will reassess options at that time.”

Town says survey markers around the Academy property are for a potential subdivision of the property to enable its sale

On April 6, The Barnacle asked Best: “There appear to be survey markers around the Academy property. Is this related to preparing for an RFP?”

On April 11, Best replied, “The survey markers at the Academy are for a potential subdivision of the property. The Town is exploring subdividing the Academy property, dividing the academy building into its own lot. This would allow Council to sell the building without selling any cemetery property. A subdivision (the noun meaning a division of land – not to be confused with a housing subdivision) would not affect the Academy’s heritage protection in any way. It also would not affect how the Academy could be used moving forward. If the property is subdivided, the Academy building would still only be used for institutional uses unless the Town entered into a Development Agreement. The Town is working with the Lunenburg Genealogical Society to install new interpretation panels at Hillcrest Cemetery this summer.”

Town says they did not previously announce they were pursuing divestment of the Academy because a motion to divest the Academy has not yet been passed at council

On April 6 (before the Town published their message indicating they sent a letter of intent to offer sale of the Academy to the Lunenburg Academy Foundation), The Barnacle asked Michael Best, Communications Manager with the Town of Lunenburg: 

“Has this intention to divest the Lunenburg Academy building been announced to the public? If it has not been announced publicly, why not yet?”

On April 11, Best replied, “Council has not formally passed any motions to proceed with the divestiture of the Lunenburg Academy,” indicating that the reason the town had not shared their intention to divest the Academy earlier is because a motion had not formally passed at a meeting of Town Council to proceed with the divestiture.

Millions of public and donor dollars invested in the Academy Building renovations in recent years

The LAF’s Strategic Directives published in 2021 outline recent capital projects for the Academy “shared by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), Parks Canada, the Province of Nova Scotia, Town of Lunenburg, and the Lunenburg Academy Foundation” that amount to more than 5.6 million dollars:

2015 Tenant Readiness Renovations: $1.5 million

2017-2018 Exterior Restoration Phase I: $2.3 million

2017 – 2018 Library Construction: $500,000

2019 – 2000 Exterior Restoration Phase II: $1 million

2019 – 2021 Heritage Interpretive Classroom: $350,000

The directives also note plans for $1 million for future lot development.

The 2022 Town of Lunenburg General Operating & Capital Budget showed the Academy generating $59,200 in revenue between its tenant leases and expenditure budget, not including debt financing payments.


Comments

3 responses to “Town of Lunenburg says they cannot say why they are pursuing sale of Lunenburg Academy”

  1. Colleen Galloway

    It would be interesting to know if the intend is to sell the Academy lot to the LAF while keeping the subdivided areas for sale or did the Town offer the property as currently held.

    1. Corinna Peveling

      A subdivision is the first step before the Academy can be sold/divested.

      The following was outlined in a communication with Parks Canada re: the “Possible sale of Old Fire Hall property” back in April 7, 2021:

      “Should the property be sold into private ownership, subdivision of the existing property would be required to meet the Land Use By-law requirements as well as the Building Code requirements. The Old Fire Hall property is adjacent to a public space, which in turn is adjacent to the Town Hall.”

  2. LAURALENE Van Loon

    I have concerns that Lunenburg’s town council is disregarding requests for discussion and consultation in the matter of their plans for the National Historic UNESCO site of the Lunenburg Academy. It appears there is a trend here to sell any land to private developers and the stakes are already placed. The unique living historical town streets and spaces such as the Blockhouse Hill Tourist Information and Castle on the Hill are up for sale with no input from the people of Lunenburg. I have read about bringing food trucks onto the already narrow streets, and wonder who brought this forward with little thought for all the current restaurants that cater to tourist and townsfolk culinary needs. Town council must think very seriously whether all of these ideas are not jeopardizing the very reason that people worldwide have continued to keep Lunenburg a “Destination Site” during their travels. Laura Van Loon, Saskatoon SK

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