Letter to Northend Residents re: CBRM Rezoning

As you may know, for the last few years, we’ve been working to repurpose the former Holy Angels Convent on George Street.

Hello, My name is Erika Shea and I am writing to you today from New Dawn Enterprises. New Dawn is a non-profit community development organization. For much of our 43-year history, New Dawn has worked in housing, homecare, residential care for community members with disabilities, Meals on Wheels, investments, and community engagement. Our vision — a self-reliant people in a vibrant community — is the thread that weaves all of this work together.

As you may know, for the last few years, we’ve been working to repurpose the former Holy Angels Convent on George Street.

The Holy Angels Convent, owned and administered by the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame, was built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. For more than 130 years, along with the adjacent high school, it housed and educated thousands of women (and a few men too).

Based on a series of informal, and then formal, community conversations and consultations between 2012 and 2014, we set out in 2017 to adapt the Convent into a centre for arts and culture — a place that will provide affordable work space to visual artists and musicians and new spaces in which we can all engage with arts, artists, and each other.

The Convent, as it will continue to be called, will reopen in early 2020.

A Wonderful Challenge

Soon after New Dawn first purchased the Holy Angels property in 2013, we were able to begin making use of the former Holy Angels High School and welcomed a number of tenants into the space. Today, tenants in the high school (or the New Dawn Centre as it is now known) include the Nova Scotia Power Maker Space, Navigate Startup House and Event Space, The Clean Foundation, Easy Golf Tour, Class Acts Drama School, Common Good Solutions, The Art Room, and Soulvaria Virtual Reality — among others.

At the time of the purchase, we expected that we would occupy the high school for a few years while the Convent was redeveloped, and that the former would close when the latter reopened.

We find ourselves today with a wonderful challenge, and not one we see too often in Cape Breton — the high school continues to be fully rented and of service to a range of tenants, and 85% of the new space in the Convent has also been spoken for.

If we wish to keep the high school open when the convent reopens in early 2020 (and we really would like to operate both buildings so long as they can continue to contribute meaningfully to the community) we will need to secure a zoning amendment from the municipality.

Specifically, we are seeking two things through this process:

  1. permission to operate both buildings with our existing parking (86 onsite spaces and 34 on-street spaces); and
  2. permission for our Meals on Wheels program to operate a small restaurant.

Which brings me to the reason for this letter.

In the next week you will (if you haven’t already) receive a notice from the CBRM about the zone amendment process, particularly an Open House that the CBRM will be hosting to offer Northend residents an opportunity to learn more about the project and the requested amendment, and to ask questions of both New Dawn and municipal staff.

We thought we would take this opportunity to share with you a little more about the project and the proposed amendment and to say that we really hope you will come by the upcoming open house. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the project itself, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Open House

Monday, October 7, 2019
6–8pm
CBRM Civic Centre

CBRM Online Survey

North End Sydney Amendment Survey

The Convent — Centre for Arts & Culture

And now a little more about the project…

When The Convent reopens in early 2020 it will be home to painters, illustrators, pianists, fiddlers, collage artists, filmmakers, muralists, songwriters, music instructors, and graphic designers.

It will provide our most creative community members — young and old — with places in which they can create new works, collaborate, and share their work with the community.

It will provide all of us with a vibrant, imaginative, welcoming place to visit, grab a coffee, attend a lecture, purchase a piece of art directly from its maker, and learn more about all of our great artistic riches here on Cape Breton Island.

We have been very fortunate to have been able to work with a wonderful design team on this project —
a team that brings both deep local expertise (Trifos design consultants) and experience in the adaptive reuse of historic buildings (DTAH).

Over the last three years, this team has designed an arts centre that will include:

22 private studios

On average 150-square-feet each and rented at a cost of approximately $270/month including utilities, Internet,
and HST.

Eleven of these studios have been equipped with sinks for visual artists and six have been treated for sound for musicians/sound artists.

22 work spaces

Fourteen work desks and eight semi-private workspaces, in a bright open studio, ranging in price from $95/month to $190/month including utilities, Internet, and HST.

2 presentation spaces

For lectures, book launches, film screenings, and other community events.

4 larger arts tenants

Three of which we’re able to share with you at this time:

  • Nova Scotia Community College — New Music Arts Diploma Program (25 students/year)
  • Celtic Colours International Festival — Box office and administrative offices
  • Novastream Productions Film & Video production company

The Convent — the first centre of its kind in Nova Scotia — is a project that New Dawn has taken on because we believe in its potential to create positive change in our community. For many decades, Cape Breton Island has been a place of great struggle — of economic decline, depopulation, unemployment, addictions, and poverty. Alongside the very tangible consequences of this struggle are the less visible impacts: we sometimes have difficulty sustaining hope, we can struggle to imagine a different and more vibrant future, we feel socially isolated, we become politically disengaged. The arts offer one means of challenging some of these difficult tendencies and perspectives. The arts can help us to look at ourselves and at each other differently, to see what we have in common. They inspire us, show us the limitlessness of human ingenuity. Prompt us to have tough conversations about who we are and who we want to be, and help to uncover the best possible versions of ourselves.

Parking at The Convent

A big part of the redesign process over the last few years has been identifying a meaningful new use for the building that fits within the existing footprint of the property. This has required us to balance being both imaginative and practical.

When the renovations of The Convent (and Convent grounds) are complete the property will have 86 on-site parking spaces. It benefits from another 34 on-street parking spaces around the George-Nepean-Charlotte-Yorke block.

But based on the current municipal zone requirements we require an additional 20 spaces to operate both the high school and the convent.

For us, one of the most striking, and important features of the Holy Angels property has been its beautiful, lush, green grounds. This is a feature we’re currently in the process of reinstating (with the assistance of Highland Landscaping and Municipal Ready Mix) after many months of construction and construction vehicles on site.

We hope that these grounds will welcome and host people of all ages, in all seasons, for many years to come. Because this green space is so important to us, and because we also believe that it is important to the community, we are reluctant to pave over some or all of it to create additional parking spaces.

As an alternative, and recognizing the need for greener, healthier, less carbon-intensive lifestyles and communities we would propose providing the following as a way of decreasing vehicle traffic to the site:

Through these public and active transportation incentives, we aim to decrease vehicle trips by 25-35%

Through this zoning amendment process, we are seeking permission to continue to operate the High School building when the Convent reopens in early 2020 with the 86 on-site and 34 on-street parking spaces that are planned given the above efforts to reduce vehicle traffic to the site.

Emergency Ride-home Program for Sustainable Commuters

The Convent will organize, through regular tenant meetings, the structure and commitment from tenants for a building-wide emergency ride home program for sustainable commuters. This will provide sustainable commuters (those using active or public transportation) with an option to ‘ask a neighbor’ for a ride if the need arises and the bus schedule or active transportation are not conductive their immediate needs.

Priority Parking for Carpools

There will be on-site priority parking reserves for car-pooling. One spot will be clearly identified in the Nepean St. lot and one spot in the Charlotte St. lot. We will organize an annual event for tenants at which they can discuss their options for ride-sharing and carpooling. This program will help reduce engine emissions, single-occupant vehicles, and the overall parking requirements of the property.

Discounted Transit Passes

The Convent will provide an annual subsidy of $4500 to offset the cost of an adult transit pass (CBRM Transit Pass: $75 a month; $900 annually). This subsidy can be spread out to 10 users at $450 each annually or up to 20 at $225 each annually depending on program uptake.

Bike Racks

Within the convent site design, there is a provision for bike racks at the two main entries of the facility on George Street (East) and Nepean Street (West). The facility is ideally situated on one of the main arteries in CBRM and directly on the George St. bike path.

Changroom/Shower Facilities

The Convent has installed an accessible shower in the facility for use by tenants and staff. This was done to encourage active transportation and reinforce a commitment to healthy lifestyles for staff and tenants. Staff, tenants and visitors who walk, run, or bike to the facility will know they have access to this shower/change room.

New Dawn Meals on Wheels

The Meals on Wheels program in Sydney started in 1972 with a small group of church volunteers. In 1983 New Dawn took over administration of the program.

New Dawn Meals on Wheels is a charitable, volunteer-driven program. The program is committed to fostering independence and quality of life by providing affordable nutrition services to those in our community unable to cook for themselves. In Cape Breton, as more and more families leave the island for work, community members, volunteers and organizations like Meals on Wheels find themselves stepping in to provide the support services that enable our seniors, in particular, to live happy, healthy and independent lives in their own homes.

Over the last 36 years, the program has experienced considerable change. In 2018, the program delivered 12,000 meals in the Sydney area, with 76 volunteers, and provided nutritional education programming to more than 800 participants.

New Dawn’s Meals on Wheels program also:

  • Offers a subsidy for clients who struggle to pay for the full cost of meals.
  • Teaches Wireless Wednesday computer literacy programs for seniors.
  • Hosts the Good Food Bus (the new mobile food market in the CBRM).
  • Organizes several Wheels to Meals events each year (bringing senior clients together for a meal and musical performance).
  • Partnered with CBU to test the quality of produce grown in a local cold- climate greenhouse.
  • Created nutrition workshops for students at Whitney Pier Memorial, Coxheath Elementary, Northside, Glace Bay High School, Sherwood Park, Cusack Elementary and others.

For its first thirty or so years, the program relied on external institutional (hospitals, nursing homes) and private sector (restaurant) meal providers.

In 2017, Meals on Wheels opened the Better Bite Community Kitchen in the former Holy Angels High School and for the first time gave the program the ability to plan and prepare its own meals. The small high school test kitchen has been a huge success and has increased the number of seniors the program serves, the number of program volunteers it welcomes, and the number of participants in its nutrition education programs.

A Meals on Wheels Restaurant

The Convent offers New Dawn Meals on Wheels the opportunity to operate a small restaurant on the building’s second-floor for tenants, visitors to the building, and the community. It also offers the program the opportunity to move into a larger, better designed, commercial kitchen.

The restaurant will be able to seat 25 people and will be located in one half of the building’s second-floor south wing. The other half of the building’s second-floor south wing (across the hallway from the restaurant) will be home to the new Meals on Wheels kitchen and Meals on Wheels office.

It will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner with the approximate hours of 8am–10pm daily. As a restaurant, it will be licensed, and its license will be governed and monitored by the NSLC.

For our Meals on Wheels program, this restaurant will help us to earn revenue to cover some of the costs of our seniors’ meal delivery program.

Although the Meals on Wheels program is generously supported by organizations like United Way and by a host of committed donors, annual costs still exceed annual income. The Meals on Wheels restaurant will move the program closer to financial sustainability for the first time in its more than thirty year history.

The restaurant also:

Creates new opportunities for meals on wheels volunteers

The majority of New Dawn Meals on Wheels volunteers are themselves seniors. As of January 2019, the average age of our volunteers was 65 with 82% of our volunteers over the age of 59. Our oldest volunteer was 92, and the youngest was 6. More than 45% of our volunteers are over 70 years of age. Some of our volunteers deliver meals. Some work in the small high school kitchen. The proposed café creates a new space for volunteers who are more drawn to a lively social community setting.

Creates a welcoming space for visitors

Particularly visitors who may not have visited an arts centre before. it is really important to us that everyone in the community – and across Cape Breton – be made to feel welcome in the new centre. A small restaurant – where they can get a sandwich and a cup of coffee helps us to achieve this. It offers a safe place for first-time visitors to the building and a space from which they can explore the rest of the building once comfortable or on future visits. It gives those who may not initially feel like they belong in an arts centre a place to land and feel seen and embraced.

Creates a space for conversation and collaboration

Historically, restaurants and cafes have been the birthplace of many great ideas. Thinkers, artists, scholars, and all manner of creators have relied on them as places of creative inspiration for centuries. The Meals on Wheels restaurant has been designed to encourage reading, working, meeting, conversing, and collaborating.

Through this zoning amendment process, we are seeking permission to operate the Meals on Wheels restaurant in The Convent.

Invitation

We really hope you will consider attending the upcoming open house. It will be an opportunity to ask questions about the project, meet some of the staff who have been working on the project, and speak with CBRM planning staff about the requested amendments.

Sincerely,

Erika Shea
New Dawn Enterprises
[email protected]
902-539-8729 ext.223

Virtual Tour

PS: If you’d like to get a peek into how the building will take shape in the coming months, you can check out The Convent’s virtual tour here: theconvent.ca/virtual-tour

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