Martello School to close after sale of Princess Street United Church

Princess Street United Church, located at the corner of Princess and Albert Streets, is being sold to local not-for-profit housing agency, Home Base Housing. That sale is one of many factors leading to the closure of Martello Enrichment School, which operates inside the church. Photo by Tori Stafford.

Princess Street United Church is in the process of being sold to Home Base Housing, and the 32-year-old school that is currently within the church will close at the end of next month.

Last week, both Princess Street United Church (PSUC) confirmed that the stately church at the corner of Princess and Albert Streets is being sold to Home Base Housing, a not-for-profit organization that provides a range of supportive housing and housing-related services. Although Home Base Housing wouldn’t expand on the details of their plans for the building, Executive Director Tom Greening confirmed that his organization was purchasing the church in a statement to the media.

“At this time, we can acknowledge that we have entered into a Conditional Purchase and Sale Agreement with the Church. There are conditions that have yet to be met.  When those conditions are met we will be holding a press conference to release further information as we are only in preliminary stages of how the property will be utilized,” the statement reads.

“It is our desire to protect the heritage of Princess Street United Church and continue its use for the community and public good.”

PSUC echoed the statement from Home Base Housing, but underlined that the deal between the two organizations would allow the congregation at PSUC to continue worshiping at the church.

“The plan is the congregation 100 per cent will be staying at PSUC. The use of PSUC sanctuary for worship and services by the congregation for the next decade is one of the conditions of sale. When PSUC asked for that condition in the initial conversation, HBH did not hesitate for a second to agree,” said Kim Garrison, pro tem Chair of the Trustees of PSUC.

Garrison said that both a dwindling congregation and the cost for upkeep of the aging, large building were reasons PSUC decided to sell to Home Base Housing.

“It was a financial reality that we would no longer have our doors open in two years,” she said, noting that the building will maintain its heritage designation, and that PSUC is pleased that the building is being sold “to another not-for-profit with like-minded outreach goals.  It will not be bought by a developer and torn down. ”

“Of course, as with all United Church sales, there is still the condition of approval from the East Central Ontario Regional Council of the United Church.  There are a few outstanding conditions to honour and while we don’t anticipate any snags, we also want to be respectful that the process is not yet complete,” she said.

At the time, both PSUC and Martello Enrichment School indicated that the terms of the sale included allowing the school to maintain its residency in the building, though Principal Catherine Mills noted the school did not receive notice of the sale until it was nearly imminent.

“I was informed of the church’s sale to an unknown party on June 28th. Up until that time there was no indication that anything was going to be happening to the church,” Mills said on Wednesday, Jul. 17, 2019 in an email to Kingstonist.

“We certainly were not informed ahead of time. That was quite surprising.”

On that date, Mills indicated she was in negotiations with Home Base Housing to lease out the back part of the building and that the school would still have use of the sanctuary for the school year ahead.

However, one week later, Mills sent out a letter to the parents of students at Martello Enrichment School stating that the school would close as of Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019.

“This past year has been what one would call an ‘annus horribilis’ with unexpected teacher departures, floods, accidents, illnesses, construction and many other obstacles. Regardless of this year’s low enrollment and unexpected heavy, financial expenses, Martello School was able to continue an educational excellence in education for each and every student,” Mills wrote in the letter obtained by Kingstonist on Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2019.

“Now, however, Martello has reached a point where many important decisions must be made. I understand how difficult it would be to continue the school in an insecure environment. A location, such as what this school has had for 32 years, is very difficult to find,” the letter continues.

“Insufficient notice from P.S.U.C. on the sale of the building and information concerning the temporary relocation of classrooms is a serious issue, particularly with Home Based Housing’s plans for upcoming building rennovations (sic) and their consequent opening in April 2020. After the parent meeting on July 10th, many parents decided that it would be best for their child to move on rather than face an uncertain future.”

The letter goes on to say that Mills additionally has received notice that a member of staff at Martello School has decided to take an early retirement, and that she herself has been considering retirement in the next year.

“It is, therefore, with a heavy heart, upon the advice of my business advisors, I have decided, as of August 31, 2019, Martello Enrichment School Inc. will close. This has been a most difficult decision to make,” the letter reads.

“It has certainly been an amazing 32 years. The students, families and staff who have walked these halls will never be forgotten. Martello School is truly a legacy. The Martello motto: Mean Well, Speak Well, Do Well are words that all Martello students, present and past, will always include in their lives.”

Kingstonist will continue to monitor the situation with regard to Home Base Housing’s plans for the site, as well as PSUC’s continued use of the building as a place of worship. We will provide updates as more information becomes available.

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  1. Michael Green July 25, 2019

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