'We need space, we always need space': Community groups interested in former Harrow District High School property

A renewed push to save the former Harrow District High School property is underway.

Town of Essex councillor Sherry Bondy is hopeful the municipality will acquire the old Harrow High School building and land to be repurposed for various community groups and green space.

“The high school has been closed since 2016, but it’s time to get those doors open,” she says.

Bondy released a six-point-plan on her website this week which includes intentions to seek out viable tenants.

“Let’s get the building,” she says. “Let’s see who's interested. Let’s start fundraising and let’s make this building back into a usable facility and community hub for the southern end of Essex county.”

Bondy tells CTV News recreational groups and private businesses from within the Town of Essex and beyond have expressed interest in using the space.

“We have culture, we have tourism, we have community services all coming to the table, so now it’s up to council,” Bondy says.

“We need space,” says Julie Unholzer with the Kingsville and Essex Associated Band. “We always need space!”

Unholzer says the former secondary school would be ideal with its large sized classrooms and gymnasium, noting their current practice place in Kingsville is limited.

“It’s been here for how long? It’s been sitting empty. It’s a huge area, the parking lot, the inside is usable still,” Unholzer says she’d like to see the property stay public. “The space could be used in multiple ways. I mean, we only practice once a week, but even if we had a room that we could store things in, just so it’s right there we could walk in and take stuff out instead of having to load everything on the trailer.”

The Essex County Model Railroad Society would also like to relocate into the school building should it be repurposed as a community hub.

Brian Fletcher says his group needs a new home, and would like to put a historical model of the region, showcasing the railway system in Essex County. 

“We develop it and show people what this area was like for 100 years all the way from Hiram Walker all the way to the C&O railroad,” he says.

Officials with the public school board declined to comment saying they didn’t want to prejudice the town’s decision by discussing it publicly. They did note, however, that the property is available at fair market value, based on the most recent assessment.

Bondy says the school was closed in 2016 due to capacity issues, not structural.

“We need to heal this community,” she says. “We still feel a little scorned from our high school being closed. The high school is gone but the community is still here.”

Bondy adds a delegation on the matter is before Town of Essex council on Monday.

“If we lose this opportunity, we’re never going to get this opportunity again."