Contractor has plans to turn a vacant convent into new seniors apartments

Sueann Musick
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The sale of a multi-level vacant convent could soon help ease the waiting lists for senior apartments in the Town of Pictou.

Don Swallow of J.D. Holdings Limited said Tuesday his company is hoping to buy the former convent at 56 Gill Court in Pictou and turn it into a seniors complex.

"It's a good facility," he said. "There is a cafeteria, common areas and it's in good shape inside."

Swallow said initial plans call for 20 to 25 single-bedroom apartments in the former convent, but some potential renters have indicated they would prefer two-bedroom units. He said the rest of his senior complexes are self-contained apartments. He added if there is enough interest he would consider having someone operate the cafeteria.

Swallow's company is currently building a seniors complex across from the Pictou County Co-op in New Glasgow. He already has seniors apartments in this area.

"This (the convent) has been on the market for a while but I think is too costly for a lot of people to turn it into something feasible," he said. "We do most of the work on the units ourselves which helps reduce our costs."

He is hoping the sale will close in June but says his company probably won't start renovating the building until the new year because of other commitments. He added he hopes to have the former convent renovated and open by June 2011.

Swallow said he is aware that seniors living in 20 apartments at the Shiretown Nursing Home have been told they will have to move out of their apartments around this time so he approached the group Tuesday to let them now about his plans for the former convent.

He said some of the residents expressed a concern that there was no elevator in the building, but he said he is looking at incorporating this into his plans.

Ella Langille, a resident of the Shiretown apartments, said some of the Shiretown's tenants expressed an interest in the new apartments, but people are still upset with the idea of having to move from their current location.

"It's an awful burden to have hanging over their heads," she said. "We are still holding out hope that the government will come through with something."

Langille said there is at least a year-and-a-half wait to get into government-subsidized senior apartment in the Town of Pictou.

According to the Department of Community Services, the Eastern Mainland Housing Authority has 30 buildings for low-income seniors in the five towns and rural Pictou County. There is a year-and-a-half wait to get into such apartments in Pictou, Westville and Trenton. The wait is a bit longer in New Glasgow and Stellarton, ranging from one to three years.

"In the County of Pictou, we have a number of buildings where we can provide immediate occupancy but these locations often have limited services available in the area," said Kristen Tynes with the Department of Community Services.

MacLeod Group which owns the Shiretown Nursing Home hasn't returned calls to The News, but has told other media that construction of a new nursing home announced by the provincial government in 2008 on the same site as the Shiretown initially didn't affect the seniors apartments, but since then, a new government policy says the nursing home must be demolished if not sold. Such a demolition would turn the apartments into stand-alone buildings and require the buldings to have their own heat, electricity and sewage systems.

According to Keith Menzies, executive director of the continuing care branch of the Nova Scotia Department of Health, the government's replaced facility disposal policy gives The MacLeod Group three options on what to do with the old Shiretown Nursing home when a new facility is built.

The policy states The MacLeod Group can retain the replaced facility, sell it or demolish it. Menzies said it is only concerned with the Shiretown Nursing Home, not the senior apartments.

"When a new facility is built, this policy gives the owner options on what to do with the old building," he said.

Although the old building may be vacant, he said the government wants to insure it is no longer a nursing home and the province is no longer incurring any costs for it," he said. "Nobody has indicated to Mr. MacLeod what he must do with this property. This is a business decision."

Menzies said the policy was approved in September 2008 and up until this time it was a  "practice" rather than a policy statement.  He said the government decided to put it into writing in 2008 because new nursing homes were starting to be replaced in the province and the guidelines needed to be clear for the owners.

Swallow said he hopes the people living in the Shiretown apartments don't have to move, but he wanted them to be aware of his plans for the former convent. He also said he would be interested in seeing the price of the nursing home and its apartments if The MacLeod Group is considering selling it.

Organizations: J.D. Holdings, Pictou County Co-op, The MacLeod Group Eastern Mainland Housing Authority Community Services.MacLeod Group Nova Scotia Department of

Geographic location: Pictou County, New Glasgow, Trenton Stellarton

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