Residents and city councillors are expressing frustration that a proposal by Terra Trust and Bird Construction to give new life to the former Moncton High building remains a secret nearly three months after it was first presented to council in a private session.
The former Moncton High School remains vacant, after students left the school for the final time in January of 2015. The building was decommissioned after health and safety problems were found in the now 82-year-old building and a new school was built on the outskirts of the city.
But what to do with the building that is almost 16,500 square metres of Normandy Gothic Revival style architecture located on 2.8 hectares in the city's downtown remains in question.
The city has given support in principle to two proposals in the form of letters to the province. One is from MH Renaissance Inc. to turn the building into a cultural centre, with the Moncton Public Library as a possible anchor tenant. The other proposal is from Terra Trust and Bird Construction, but what the groups plan to do with the building remains a well-kept secret.
'I'm tired of being patient'
Beverly Taylor is one Moncton resident who feels it's time to let the cat out of the bag.
"We know nothing about it, it's a mystery proposal."
"I'm tired of being patient."
Taylor is a retired nurse, a Moncton High alumnus and a staunch supporter of MH Renaissance's proposal.
She said she can't imagine why council has not moved forward with the project yet.
"Just before Christmas, or just after, they come up with some mystery proposal which still nobody in the public knows anything about," said Taylor.
"The whole process is ridiculous. Where is the transparency that was promised in the last election? There is none."
Municipalities Act cited
Council was shown the Terra Trust/Bird Construction proposal in January in a closed-door session. City officials cite the Municipalities Act when explaining why the proposal can't be discussed publicly.
City officials point to Section 10.2(4)(c) of the Municipalities Act as the reason they can't discuss the proposal publicly: information that could cause financial loss or gain to a person or the municipality or could jeopardize negotiations leading to an agreement or contract.
Isabelle LeBlanc, Moncton's communications director, pointed out, it's the same treatment the MH Renaissance proposal received. She said it was up to the group to share the details when it wanted to.
But Coun. Shawn Crossman said he's wondering if the secrecy is justified.
"[Terra Trust/Bird Construction] are not asking for anything from the city of Moncton, so technically this shouldn't even be a private issue as far as the city of Moncton goes, this should be open and transparent and it should be explained to the citizens that way."
He said he feels like his hands are tied when constituents ask him about Terra Bird's proposal.
"All I can give you is they've put in a tender to purchase the building from the province and that's up to them to disclose to you."
No response from companies
Terra Trust and Bird Construction were both contacted by the CBC to comment on what the companies plan to do with the building, and when they will make their plan public, but neither returned phone calls or emails.
Council will be presented with a commissioned report on the costs associated with the relocation of the Moncton Library to the old Moncton High building at city council on Monday.
When the Terra Trust/Bird Construction Group proposal was broached at the Jan. 16 council meeting, Crossman, along with councillors Bryan Butler, Pierre Boudreau, Paul Pellerin and Paulette Thériault voted against supporting the motion.
Having seen the plan, Crossman said he has concerns.
"I've had conversations with Bird and Terra and I don't see any 100% solid, "yes, we're going to save the theatre" or "yes, we're going to save the gym."
Province's decision ultimately
Ultimately, the building is owned by the province, and it is its decision to make.
Coun. Paulette Theriault said she's worried that if the city takes too long picking a favourite, the province will make a decision for them.
"It's been slow, it hasn't been very transparent," said Theriault.
"We need to make a decision soon."
Deputy mayor Blair Lawrence said the situation is under control and that city staff and the council are "working away."
And Coun. Greg Turner said he's keeping an open mind. He said he'll pick the project that is the best for the city, while keeping an eye on the flow of taxpayers' dollars.
"Citizens don't want to spend money if we don't have to."
As for Taylor, she said taxpayers would be happy to voice concerns about the fate of the iconic building, if only they knew what is being proposed.
"It's like fighting in a brown bag — how do you fight in a brown bag?" she said.
"The public knows nothing."