The Municipality of the County of Antigonish will remain owner of the historic Antigonish County Courthouse.
During a July 4 special meeting, councillors approved a motion to decline proposals for the purchase of the courthouse received in response to a request for proposals (RFP) the municipality issued earlier this year.
The motion also greenlighted amendments to an existing lease with the Nova Scotia Department of Justice for use of the 164-year-old facility.
The modifications – ones proposed by the province – include an increase in the monthly rental rate, as well as a contribution towards required capital repairs.
During a meeting recess after council passed the motion, Warden Owen McCarron told reporters the province “stepped up in a meaningful fashion.”
“After council reviewed that [proposed lease amendments] and looked at the submission by the barristers’ society, we feel very comfortable that for the remaining time on the lease that this was a good path forward for the municipality, and for the legal community in Antigonish,” he added.
During council’s monthly meeting in June, representatives of the Antigonish Barristers’ Association made a presentation, outlining the importance of the county continuing as owners of the courthouse.
“The legal community coming together and explaining the necessity for this type of courthouse in our community for jury trials certainly weighed on council’s decision,” McCarron noted.
The association, along with county officials, raised their concerns with the Attorney General of Nova Scotia.
McCarron expanded on how the increased provincial contribution will be beneficial.
“This is going to reduce the outflow from the municipality because now we will be able to do capital improvements, and we feel that this will be adequate to cover the cost of the capital improvements over the next four years,” he explained.
The municipality has been budgeting approximately $28,000 annually towards running the courthouse.
“That was just barebones – just to run it,” McCarron said.
The courthouse RFP, which the municipality issued in April, included several stipulations; the new owner could not tear it down and they would be required to maintain the exterior façade and footprint.
The county received one response to the RFP.
“We had a number of inquiries along the way as well,” McCarron said.
When asked if municipal officials heard from residents regarding the future of the courthouse, the warden said he received “a number of calls.”
“There is a lot of history in this community with that courthouse and people were genuinely concerned that it remained with the county, so we are pleased that the province saw the need to be good partners in this,” McCarron said.
The lease between the county and provincial justice department – with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court serving as tenant for the courthouse – expires in 2023.
In 2015, the municipality sold the 70-year-old jail, which is attached to the courthouse, to an Antigonish-based property developer, who turned the space into apartments.