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Housing project could breathe new life into Cooke Avenue school property

Cooke Avenue School pre demolition - Allyson Kenning photo

It’s been nearly four years since a bulldozing crew came to tear down the old Cooke Avenue School. Since then, the site has been home to a whole lot of weeds. Almost two months ago, however, a group of three Rossland doctors got together and bought the property with the aim of building affordable housing there in order to attract young families to Rossland.

 
The idea for this project was born at a time when it appeared that Rossland’s population was on the decline. “About five years ago, I spoke with [former mayor] Gordon Smith about affordable housing,” says Cezary Ksiazek, the would-be general contractor for the project, and spouse of one of the trio of doctors who bought the property. “Back then, Rossland had the biggest drop in population in all of the Kootenays. People were moving out of here. A lot of people retired and sold their houses and were buying houses for half the price in Warfield and Trail. And that created a decline.”
 
Not wishing Rossland to become a “ghost town”, Ksiazek kept an eye out for properties in the area where he could put in attractive, cost-effective housing that would bring younger people into town. The former Emcon lot was one option, but it was nixed due to the costs and time involved in preparing the site for building. Finally, this spring, the group of investors closed on the Cookee Avenue School site.
 
The plan, should it gain approval from city council, would see twenty four townhouse units built, in the form of six four-unit blocks of homes, three facing Thompson Avenue and three facing Cooke Avenue. The idea behind the project would be to sell the units for approximately $300,000 each, and it would also include a community garden the centre in hopes of creating a community feel. The units would be warrantied for 10 years, and Ksiazek’s plan would be to install a German hot water baseboard heating system in the units, which he says are 50% cheaper to run than traditional forced air furnaces, and possibly triple-glazed windows, in an effort to make the homes as energy-efficient as possible.
 
Early this week, Ksiazek submitted a letter outlining the investors’ intentions to all members of City Council, a letter he shared with me. In it, he writes, “Each unit will include three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a single or double car garage. The total living space will be approximately 2000 square feet.” While Ksiazek acknowledges in the letter that not every family will be able to afford the $300,000 base price, he states, “at $150 per square feet, including land cost, it is the lowest possible price.”
 
During an interview, Ksiazek stressed that the aim of the group of investors is not to make a huge profit from the potential project. “The goal is not to make a lot of money. The goal is to make some--nobody wants to work for free--but is not to bring big profit. The goal is to bring in young families.”
 
Ksiazek is also looking for feedback from the community about what people perceive the needs of Rossland to be in terms of affordable housing.
“We have to ask the young guys how much they can afford and what do [they] want,” he stated. “I need suggestions on square footage. 2000 square feet or 1500 square feet? Double car garage or single car garage? I can put some of each and modify a little. And what about the outside? Vinyl siding is the least expensive and the least maintenance. But I know people in Rossland don’t like vinyl siding...so I can put different siding on, which is of course more expensive. But I need suggestions.”
 
Should the community have any suggestions, they can email Ksiazek at rosslandaffordable@yahoo.com.
 
Rezoning applications for the site will be submitted next week, and should the process prove successful for the investors, Ksiazek will start putting in the water and sewer lines this summer, so that the building of the units can begin in earnest early next spring.