Why the tourism boom in Prince Edward County has locals turning a school into a seniors home

A group connected to a local church in Prince Edward County is converting a school into a seniors home to relieve a growing problem that it says is due to the area’s rapid transformation into a tourist attraction. 

Volunteers from Emmanuel Baptist Church have formed a registered not-for-profit organization that’s started the project to turn the school into LoveSong Seniors Housing and Community Hub.

Ken How, the project facilitator, said it’s a response to the “massive impact” the county’s popularity is having on the availability of housing for seniors.

“It’s become a real tourist, Airbnb-type location,” How said.

“Homes have doubled, almost tripled in value in the past five years. It’s hard to believe how rapid change has occurred.”

Ken How, right, receives the keys to Pinecrest Memorial School from Prince Edward County Mayor Steve Ferguson, left, at an event earlier this month. (Ken How)

He says while short-term rentals, craft breweries and wineries are proliferating in Prince Edward County, affordable housing is getting harder and harder to find, especially for the elderly.

How and other volunteers went through the process of acquiring the property from the school board.

The project has the full support of the Prince Edward County municipal government, which first purchased the property from the school board before transferring it to the LoveSong group for $375,000. Pinecrest Memorial School in Bloomfield was closed by the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board in 2017.

Government support

“It was something that we felt we had to jump on,” Prince Edward County mayor Steve Ferguson said in an interview.

“The popularity of this place has put pressure on our housing resources. The seniors population, which is disproportionately large, has felt the impact of that popularity,” Ferguson said.

LoveSong is now seeking seed and grant money from other levels of government. “I hope the federal government is receptive to their requests,” Ferguson said.

The sale to LoveSong was finalized earlier this month. The group is now working with local developers and architects to move into the next stage of the project: raising funds to renovate the vacant school.

A rendering of LoveSong Seniors Housing and Community Hub in Prince Edward County. The development is planned at the site of a recently purchased school. (Mia Lane)

Although it will be costly — the goal is $10 million — How says it will be easier and cheaper than building a new seniors’ home from scratch.

The school has terrazzo floors and 10-foot wide hallways. They plan to keep the gym for fitness classes and other activities, both for residents and the broader community.

“It’s in great shape,” How said. They aim to open the complex for occupancy in 2022.

The development will include 50 units, 25 of which will be affordable housing. The school property is 20 acres in total, and will also have a community garden.

 ‘Outside the box’

This isn’t the first time an Ontario school has been converted into a seniors’ residence. How says he toured several, including homes in Peterborough and Owen Sound.

Some are privately run. But How believes LoveSong’s community-based, not-for-profit approach to re-purposing surplus schools is an “outside the box” model that can catch on elsewhere.

“We’ve got to be looking at how we can do a better job,” he said.

“I think the model is applicable throughout the province.”

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