At first glance, not much has changed at 83 Rolph Street since the former public school closed its doors on June 26, 2015.
The 'closed' sign is still in the main entrance door, along with 'Welcome - in order to ensure student safety, all visitors are required to report to the school office.' And, of course, assurances that Rolph Street PS is, or rather was, a peanut and nut safe zone.
That will change in coming weeks as Curtis Wilcox (2117846 Ontario Inc.) plans to redevelop the former school into a new 43-unit residential apartment building.
Changes will occur inside the former school and elsewhere on the property, but the exterior facade is protected by its Tillsonburg Heritage Site designation.
On Thursday, March 1, Town Council considered a proposed minor variance application to reduce the minimum dwelling unit area to permit nine of the proposed 43 units be approximately 39.76 square metres (428 square feet), in place of the town by-law required 55 square metres (592 square feet).
"The building department has noted that there is no concern from the building code perspective," said Eric Gilbert, Oxford County Development Planner, recommending the application be granted. "Even though the units are smaller, they still comply with the building code. The purpose of this provision is to ensure that apartment units are of a sufficient size and have enough space and amenities for the tenants. In this case, the smaller units will still have a lot of amenity area outside. As well, it will provide a different type of unit - a smaller unit that may be more affordable for a different type of tenant in town, or tenants having difficulty obtaining lodgings."
Shane Curtis, owner and president of Curtis Wilcox, noted to Council that 428 square feet was only one unit. Another six or seven of the reduced-size nine were 474 square feet.
"What we're after here came to light when my grandmother went into a retirement home," said Curtis. "We realized she spent way too long in her own home. Going into a retirement home, there wasn't the opportunity for her to cook her own meals or live as independently... so she stayed in her home where she had to pay somebody to cut the grass, shovel the snow, clean a full-size house. This product doesn't really exist in Tillsonburg. What we're aiming for is 50-plus in this building.
"So people will still be able to have 474 square feet, they'll have full kitchens with dishwashers, full bathrooms - we're likely going to do accessible bathrooms in these units as well. Certainly suitable for an elderly couple or elderly widow."
Another reason for the smaller units, said Curtis, is that they will fit within the structure of the building, which allows them to keep the hallways the same size.
"We're basically taking this building and we're in-filling. We're not ripping this building apart," said Curtis, noting the outer facade will not change due to it's heritage status.
"We're basically taking classrooms that become units, and this 474 square feet is common square footage. It's a certain area in the building that's stacked on top of each other. So instead of ripping those walls down, and changing some structure within the building, we're able to utilize that square footage."
The provincial building code allows units to be as small as 145 square feet, Curtis added.
The Rolph Street apartment building will utilize all four floors, including the attic.
"Is there a common area at all associated with the building?" asked Councillor Brian Stephenson.
"There is a common area in the new portion," said Curtis. "There's going to be a seating area with a TV, a card table area, and a kitchenette in this area. And the outdoor amenity areas are going to be quite generous. The former playground on the top level... that's going to become outdoor living space. We're going to have four outdoor barbecue stations set up there with a couple covered seating areas, a water feature, and it will be gated in. I think it's going to be quite attractive and they're going to like it."
The lower playground will be a mini pet park, specific to the building, with a reading area.
"There's also access down into Participark, but we haven't decided if we're going to maintain that (trail) or not, but certainly, we will certainly have a pet area."
"Are there larger apartments as well?" Councillor Penny Esseltine asked. "A variety?"
"Yes, I would say the average unit is around 900 square feet, with the largest being 1,200 on the top floor," said Curtis.
He said the project was likely 3-4 weeks away from having everything finalized from a planning perspective, and he is hoping to begin the project in about six-seven weeks.
"Hopefully - I'm really hoping - we're in the final plan of the site plan control submission, and we'll be able to have a presentation where the public will be able to come in, see the units. There will be opportunities to customize them in certain ways. Although it's a rental, we're really looking at these more as long-term units (three-year leases) for people who will take a little more private ownership to them than a typical unit."
The resolution was passed by Council, with the provision of a 20-day appeal period.