Angel Oak Communities, a recently formed not-for-profit organization, has a plan to turn the former Saint Stanislaus Novitiate Jesuit college at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre into a 70-unit residence primarily for adults with disabilities.
Ignatius Jesuit Centre officials sat down with GuelphToday.com this morning to talk about the proposal. Executive director Roger Yaworski and director of operations Lisa Calzonetti said the Jesuit Province of Canada, the landlord and owner of the centre, has agreed in a letter of intent to enter into a contract with Angel Oak Communities.
The Ignatius Jesuit Centre on the northern outskirts of Guelph serves as a spiritual retreat for people from around the world, and is also a hub of organic farming and gardening.
The residential project is described as an ideal fit for the centre, its philosophy and mandate, particularly the mission Jesuits have long engaged in working with and assisting marginalized populations.
Calzonetti said providing homes for adults with special needs fits well with the centre’s goals.
“What these adults are faced with is when they turn 18, government funding stops, other than through ODSP,” she said. “This will allow them to become self-sufficient.”
For many years, the sprawling college building has been known as Orchard Park, and has provided office space for a wide range of users, including a number of holistic health practitioners, therapists, artists, agricultural groups, and educational organizations.
Up until a few years ago, Orchard Park had two key anchor tenants, Canadian Mental Health Association, and a component of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. When those tenants left, the centre began thinking of alternative uses for a building that is very costly to run and maintain, and not fully utilized.
“As we’ve gone from single renters to multiple renters it has become so much more of a logistical headache,” Yaworski said.
Calzonetti added that the centre can no longer manage the building’s infrastructure. Turning it into a sustainable residential centre will cost several million dollars.
In 2015, an Expression of Interest process was launched. Most submissions were not the types of proposals the centre was seeking. But then Angel Oak Communities proposed a residence for adults with disabilities. Dialogue and planning has been ongoing for about two years.
Calzonetti said local realtor Mark Enchin started Angel Oak Communities.
“The project is to take Orchard Park as it currently exists, not changing anything readily noticeable on the outside, and looking at approximately 70 units, one and two bedroom apartments,” she said, adding that Enchin envisions the projects as a centre of sustainability. “Everything will be state of the art in terms of energy conservation.”
Calzonetti and Yaworski stressed that the building is not being sold, and that there is a mandate to keep all of the centre’s property, about 600 acres, intact. A long-term lease agreement would be signed with Angel Oak Communities in the event the project goes ahead.
“It’s exciting in terms of taking this building we didn’t know what to do with and all of a sudden getting this wonderful possibility,” Yaworski said, adding that it remains a dream at this stage.
Enchin’s proposal also includes possible commercial tenants in the building, such as a small restaurant, bakery, and community room. The proponent has begun a fundraising process to make the plan a reality.
“He really has the dream of providing a place that would be sustainable for these people,” Yaworski said, speaking of Enchin’s vision. “He feels it could really be a model for the world if we pull it off.”
Calzonetti said the letter of intent is not a contractually binding agreement, but it does permit Enchin to apply for grants to bring the project to fruition. Ignatius Jesuit Centre’s involvement in the project will be at arm’s length.
“We have a lot of faith in this project,” she said. “If it comes to fruition it is absolutely a perfect fit for the Jesuits in Guelph.”
Calzonetti indicated that most current tenants would like to stay in the location, and Angel Oaks would like some of them to stay.
“They just need to figure out which ones would be the best fit,” she said, adding that two schools headquartered at Orchard Park will be able to operate out of it for the 2017-18 school year. A letter has been sent to current tenants letting them know of the proposal.
Until such time as a final contract is ratified, the Jesuit Province of Canada has veto power over the proposal.