BRIDGETOWN, N.S. — Gordonstoun, a highly rated private boarding school, has granted its first franchise and the new $62-million school and dormitories will be built somewhere between Bridgetown and Annapolis Royal.
Annapolis County Warden Timothy Habinski announced the Gordonstoun Nova Scotia project at a packed public meeting at the high school in Bridgetown on Saturday.
The franchise from Gordonstoun Schools Ltd., in Northern Scotland goes to E.A. Farren Ltd., with most of the investment in the project coming from overseas.
The potential economic impact wasn’t lost on the crowd in attendance, and the buzz after the meeting was about future vitality and growth.
Edward Farren, who was at the meeting attended by hundreds of county residents, said the project seeks a $7.2-million loan guarantee from the province in order to leverage funding. (Click here to see Farren's application for the guarantee.) Farren later clarified that seeking the loan guarantee had been his original approach to the province but that had changed two months ago to focus on obtaining a municipal loan guarantee instead.
The school will be built in Premier Stephen McNeil’s Annapolis riding but the premier said the province can't provide a loan guarantee.
“We don’t do provincial guarantees on loans associated with this,” the premier said. “What we’re looking at is can we modernize the MGA (Municipal Government Act), which would allow the municipalities, not just Annapolis County, but all municipalities that are financially healthy, and there’s an indicator to determine that, to be able to borrow money on projects like this if they believe it’s in the public interest of the people they represent.”
McNeil said the Municipal Finance Corporation would be the lender, which is how the province finances all municipalities.
“If they have the capacity to carry that, and some do and some don’t, the ones that do would have the flexibility.”
Habinski said municipal governments can’t sit back and wait for good things to happen.
“We have to go out into the world, find the best possible practices, make the best possible relationships, and actively bring the best possible projects home if we want to see our community spiral up in the midst of the many challenges we face,” Habinski said.
Council had been working with Farren for more than two years as the New Brunswick businessman sought a location in Annapolis County for an International Baccalaureate-granting private school.
“To pursue such a project is outside of traditional municipal scope but our council, fresh from our public consultations, immediately realized what this could mean, and authorized travel for myself and the CAO to visit the inspiration for this school, the original school created by the proponent of the Round Square Movement in private education,” Habinski said.
Gordonstoun, the school founded by Dr. Kurt Hahn, and the school that Prince Philip went to, unexpectedly offered a franchise to Farren based partly on his vision and partly on Habinski’s pitch for Annapolis County.
Premier McNeil and muniicpal Coun. Alex Morrison attended a second meeting at Gordonstoun in Elgin, Moreyshire, Scotland.
“His reaction to Gordonstoun was just like ours: he was deeply impressed,” Habinski said of the premier. “And so we’ve been working to move Gordonstoun Nova Scotia forward ever since.”
The first class enrolled in the not-for-profit school is expected to crack the books in September 2020 with Grade 9 students and possibly some Grade 10 students. The project will be phased in until full enrollment of 600 students in Grades 9 to 12 is realized in 2023 and the first graduation is held.
The campus will consist of an administration building, library, learning centre, sports centre, refectory, chapel/auditorium, art/music/drama facilities, space for sciences, languages, English, math, and, of course, residences. The Gordonstoun Nova Scotia school will be of net-zero construction leaving virtually no environmental footprint and relying very little on municipal utilities with the exception of the county’s new fibre optic backbone that was a selling point for the project.
Habinski said the estimated $10 million in teacher salaries will have an economic multiplier impact of $24 million on the local economy each year. Operational and service staff wages will amount to more than $6.5 million annually with an overall local economic impact of more than $14 million.
The large crowd that gathered for the announcement gave Habinski and other speakers ovation after ovation as the plan was unveiled and its impact realized.
“I think this is a great bit of news for the county. This is a long-term venture and I think it’s going to create so many spinoffs that we can’t even imagine them yet,” said Paradise resident David Hankinson.
“I agree with Dave totally,” said Linda Hankinson. “I was really surprised. I knew it was going to be something with education but I couldn’t figure out what it was. I just find this so exciting and I think it’s going to be great for the economy. We need this for our county.”
Couny resident Heather LeBlanc said it’s an extraordinary opportunity for Annapolis County, its residents and its businesses.
“So many people should be thanked for being so inventive and creative to even get involved in this kind of a business atmosphere, and just congratulations to everyone,” LeBlanc said. “I’m looking forward to the next two or three years and how it unfolds for all of us.”
Local business woman Jennifer D’Aubin said she was a bit stunned by the announcement.
“This is huge and it’s exciting, and it’s a little overwhelming but in a good way,” said D’Aubin, who co-owns Bridgetown businesses D’Aubin Family Meats and food and entertainment venue Temple on Queen.
“This is phenomenal. This is going to have every bit of the economic impact they said it would and then some.”
She said she was still a little at a loss for words.
“I’m just processing still,” she said. “The fact that there was specific mention of a butcher – I see expansion in our future. It’s something we’ve been talking about and we’ve been muddling with but you know it’s probably going to come.”
Heather McCormick, a former educator and high school principal in Annapolis County, said she was thrilled to see a program like Gordonstoun coming to the county.
“It will certainly dovetail beautifully with the high school programs going on in our area,” she said, “and we are truly thankful that this type of opportunity will be in our back door. How lucky are we?”
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect the context in which Ed Farren's comments reguarding request for a loan guarantee were made.