The Region of Queens Municipality has approved the sale of the former Mill Village school to the DEVI International Boarding School Society.
The school will be sold to the non-profit society for $1 and be converted into a private boarding school for about 40 students from Grades 6-10.
Mayor David Dagley said council was pleased with the opportunity to transfer the school to the DEVI society. "Of course, we're looking to the savings and maintenance, and we're expecting that will be an economic boost to the Mill Village area and a good location to have in Queens."
The school was closed in 2014 and declared a surplus property in 2015. The municipality has spent nearly $10,000 each year on heating fuel, power and insurance for the vacant school.
The Municipal Government Act requires a public hearing if a municipality sells a property to a non-profit organization at more than $10,000 less than market value. The Mill Village school property is valued at $45,000 with the building and $31,000 without it. Since the region offered to sell the school for $1, a public hearing was held on March 28.
One individual who spoke at that hearing asked for the heritage of Mill Village to be preserved at the school.
Mary Kuhn, a substitute teacher with the South Shore Regional School Board and a director with the society, said she's heard a lot about the history of Mill Village, having lived there herself, and is looking forward to creating something that will benefit both students and the community.
She said the society will share its plans as it works towards a "happy, harmonious" relationship with Mill Village, Charleston and all of Queens County.
The students will be educated using the Nova Scotia curriculum, with an added focus on the spiritual values of Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, the founder of Sahaja Yoga, who died in 2011. Sahaja Yoga is described as a method of meditation based on self-realization, or "Kundalini awakening."
Deputy mayor Susan MacLeod said the school would be a "welcome addition" and could open Queens to the "international world."
Details surrounding the society were largely unknown when the announcement was first made in February and Councillor Jack Fancy said council was acting "on faith" having not seen a curriculum.
Councillor Raymond Fiske, who represents the Mill Village area, asked if the group could present to council and discuss its proposal. But given the lack of opposition from the public hearing, he said, "It's clear to me that if the community was interested in being against this, they would've been here."
Six councillors, along with Mayor Dagley, supported the agreement, while Fancy opposed.
Dagley said a presentation from the society wasn't necessary, but he expects one will happen so council and the public can know where the project is going.
"I do believe that there are logistical questions that will continue and the operators of the school, through the society, will definitely address those," he said.
The DEVI society has indicated it will set up a public information session following questions about the project at the public hearing.
The society estimates about $200,000 will be needed to upgrade the school and says an expected annual operating budget of $350,000 to $400,000 will benefit the region's economy.
As many as seven or eight full-time jobs could be formed at the school, according to the society.
The society will take ownership on May 31, 2017, and the school is expected to open next year on December 21, 2018.
If the school is not operational by then, a stipulation in the agreement requires the society to sell the property back to the region for the initial $1 sale price. And if the society wants to sell the school to a different third party, the region has a right of refusal, meaning it will be the first to try and buy back the property.
This also means the municipality would have to cover all of the repairs done while the school was open, as well as 10 per cent of the difference between the initial assessment value and cost for repairs for each year of operation.
For example, if the property was assessed at $500,000 initially and the society spent $200,000 on repairs over three years, the region would have to pay $290,000.
"Moving forward, we're not anticipating that it will turn back to the municipality ... but anything is possible," said Dagley.
When LighthouseNOW asked what would happen if the property was "flipped," Dagley said a number of issues would be taken into consideration, including costs to the region and who was making an inquiry into the facility.
"The region has the ability to make a wise decision at the time, and I think that's all that we can accomplish at this point. I believe taxpayers and the Region of Queens are well represented in the document."