Unless someone out there has a little pixie dust or a magic wand, nothing is going to be done with the old Fort Frances High School building or property in the foreseeable future.
“We don’t have anything magical yet,” Fort Frances CAO Bill Naturkach said after a meeting Wednesday between himself and the Rainy River District School Board to discuss the fate of the old high school.
The school board abandoned the building in 1999 when the new high school building was completed. It has sat vacant since—shut down and boarded up.
The school board and the town have estimated it will cost more than $1 million to demolish the building and clean up the site.
“It’s a city block, it’s a huge chunk of land,” Naturkach said. “The sheer tonnage, the volume of it, is enormous. Can you imagine how many truckloads that is?”
The problem facing both the school board and town is that the cost is too high to do anything alone—and there are no funds available to access to clean up the site.
“Neither one of us has the financial wherewithal to do what everyone wants done with it,” Naturkach noted. “What we don’t have and will need is a private-sector partner.”
He noted several scenarios for the First Street East site were discussed at yesterday’s meeting, including two high-profile plans of late.
Plans for the site as outlined in the “Re-Inventing Fort Frances” studied were discussed, Naturkach said, as was the possible plan for a new public library being built on the site.
“Within those two efforts there are a whole number of possibilities,” he said, referring to attracting private-sector partners.
Naturkach gave a mini retail mall or a parking lot for the downtown as examples, adding the site is too large to envision one project on it.
“We don’t think this community can afford one single-use on that site,” he said, adding that “we wouldn’t put a big box on that site.”
Naturkach noted the site is too small for most big box outlets while using the land in that manner wouldn’t be effective.
He stressed the key is retail and public partnerships, but admitted it may be hard to get private-sector businesses to invest at this time.
“It is a difficult,” he said. “Now with the political environment the way it is with the attack on Iraq, it compounds the issue. We’re [still] optimistic.”
Another strategy that came out of yesterday’s meeting, Naturkach said, was to exert joint pressure on other levels of government for help.
“We did speak of a joint political approach with the Ministry of Education,” he said. “Currently there are no ministry funds and no funds we can get.”
He said both sides now will make reports back to their respective executives—the school board and town council—for comments, then an initiative headed by the chair of the board and the mayor would be likely.
However, Naturkach admitted there is no rush from either group to do something with the site.
“There is no immediate time frame,” he said. “One of the primary things is that the board must do its due diligence to ensure safety on the site. And they are.
“Technically, if nothing happens in that way,” he added, referring to vandalism and safety concerns, “it could stay there forever [legally].
“Ultimately, something will be done, whether it’s today, a year, or 10 years from now,” Naturkach said.
He added the school board has said it would put money aside when possible to dismantle the old high school piecemeal, but doing it brick by brick could take a long time.
Though no dates were set to meet again on this issue, Naturkach said the town and school board will keep in touch on the matter, especially in regards to working together to pressure the Ministry of Education.
Representatives from the school board was unavailable for comment as of press time Thursday.