By Stew Slater
“I fell in love with the community,” was Green-Tech Environmental Engineering Ltd. president Tom Davis’s response, when asked by the Journal Argus why his Toronto-based company decided to purchase the former Arthur Meighen Public School as a future site for training space and other uses.
The Avon Maitland District School Board’s sale of the approximately 38,000 square foot building, consisting of an original pre-1900 construction with a number of subsequent additions, officially closed on Nov. 9. The price was $200,000 — the same value the board set (and failed to achieve) as a reserve auction bid in late 2011, when it first attempted to sell the former school, which closed its doors the previous year.
Davis says Green-Tech’s “core business” is facilitating the remediation of contaminated urban properties, often referred to as “brownfields.” With operations out of both Toronto and London, it currently employs 20 people. In the future, he said, he’d like to see St. Marys — with the Arthur Meighen building acting as a hub — develop into “ground zero” for services and products necessary for this type of work.
A 25-year resident of Toronto, Davis began moving his family to London about seven years ago, to accommodate his position as a professor of Sustainable Design, Engineering, and Architecture at Fanshawe College. He’s an engineer, and is also qualified to approve the high-standard “LEED” certification for energy-efficient building practices.
And he sees the Arthur Meighen property as a wonderful opportunity to put this expertise to work in re-creating a state-of-the-art building that — aside from its use for Green-Tech’s operations — would be a showcase example of energy efficiency and architectural style. Among the features he envisions are photovoltaic cells transforming the sun’s rays into electricity, the utilization of geothermal energy from below the ground, and the absence of connection to the conventional electricity grid.
(Davis already owns a Mount Forest-area farm property, used as a cottage, which is off the grid.)
Contrary to what some might think, Davis notes, decades-old construction often lends itself to such lofty aims. If it was built prior to the presence of electricity or natural gas infrastructure, he reasons, a building is more likely to include features that helped its occupants rely on the natural heat of the sun and natural ventilation from the breeze.
Plus, he believes there’s “a huge, under-utilized, highly technical workforce” in southwestern Ontario that will be drawn to this type of project.
In the initial phase, Davis explains, a portion of the building will be used by Green-Tech for training purposes. But “it’s not going to be an unlimited cash flow experience for us,” he said, adding the timeline for occupancy by the company isn’t set in stone. “You’re not going to see cranes going up tomorrow.”
He does, however, want to initiate discussions soon with the Town of St. Marys regarding possible use of portions of the building by the municipality, as well as with neighbouring landowners about their concerns and desires for the Arthur Meighen property.
It’s this community-based sense of pride in the Stonetown’s heritage that sealed Green-Tech’s desire to purchase the property. “The architecture of downtown St. Marys is a gem . . . And this was something we saw as a direct opportunity to contribute to that in some way.”