Town to purchase Huffman property

Duane Hicks

The former F.H. Huffman School closed its doors in June, but the building and its surrounding property may not go unused for long after the Town of Fort Frances agreed to buy it for $155,000.
“We’ve been looking at it for the last while, we’ve purchased it, and there’s many things that we’re considering that can be done with that area,” Mayor Roy Avis noted last week.
He added the property could have recreational possibilities, as the east end skating rink is already there, or maybe it could be turned into building lots since the infrastructure already is in place.
“All these things are being put on the table and discussed,” the mayor said.
“When the opportunity came along, council felt it would be in their best interest to put a bid in on the school and hope that we can develop it in the future,” he added.
Mayor Avis stressed the town “is going to walk before we run” with regards to the property, and carefully consider its future use.
“We felt it’s a key location in the community,” he explained. “If you look at where the new library is, we took away some of the field there.
“We used to have tennis courts there, we used to have a ball diamond there.
“It’s always nice to have green space,” he reasoned.
“There could be consideration for a subdivision,” the mayor continued. “There’s many things it could be used for.
“Everything’s on the table, and we’re going to be walking through it, probably with our economic development committee, and seeing what we can do with that.”
Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig said the town hasn’t “had too good of luck with schools that become derelict,” adding that having the property gives the town some control of what happens to it.
“Plus, there’s maybe an opportunity to develop some nice residential lots there,” he noted.
“The building is in pretty good condition, and maybe somebody would be interested in leasing it, who knows, should the council decide to do that.”
McCaig said deciding what to do with the property will bear some consideration. In the meantime, the town will maintain the property and make sure the grass is cut.
“We’re going to have to spend some real serious time taking a look at it and strategizing what the best future use is,” he stressed.
“We’re going to go through that.
“But when you see a piece of property like that, right in the heart of a residential section, it’s got a lot of potential benefits to the town from a lot of perspectives,” McCaig reasoned.
“We’ve really got to examine those.”
McCaig said the town officially was notified the property was up for sale on June 29, after which time the town had the property appraised and thoroughly investigated it prior to agreeing to purchase it.
The deal is expected to close by the end of November.
At its Oct. 12 meeting, council received the letter of acceptance, dated Oct. 6, from the Rainy River District School Board regarding the town’s offer of purchase respecting F.H. Huffman School and agreed that an appropriate bylaw be prepared.
“I think it’s positive for any community to make sure the space in their community is used effectively, and I am feeling really positive about the decision of the board to accept the offer from the Town of Fort Frances,” said Heather Campbell, director of education for the Rainy River District School Board.
She added the fact the town is keenly interested in the property “is a really positive sign that our community is being further developed.”