Cape Breton boat builder hopes to turn old school into marine assembly shop – Nova Scotia

A boat builder from Port Morien, N.S., is hoping to turn an old school in his community into a marine assembly and repair facility.

Mark Head, the manager of Long Beach Boat Building, said the idea was sparked in part by the pending retirement of Long Beach Boat Building’s owner, as well as the opportunity presented by the vacant school.

“What we want to do here is start our own company and continue to build and repair lobster boats to serve the community here in Port Morien,” Head said.

Gowrie Memorial School was one of 17 closed by the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board last year. It is listed for sale at $80,000.

Workforce could double

If Head buys the school, he plans to remove the floor and classroom walls and install two roll-up doors to get boats in and out.

Inside the 45-metre-long school building, crews could build three boats at a time, Head said, and the workforce of seven could double to 15 over the next few years.

Gowrie School was one of 17 closed by the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board in 2016. (George Mortimer/CBC)

“Right now there’s a wait time for boat shops of about three years. We would be able to do more construction and hopefully shorten the wait time a little bit,” he said.

Head said most lobster boats cost about $275,000 to $300,000 to build.

Bylaws need amendment

Cape Breton Regional Council discussed the purchase request at its meeting last week. In a memo, senior planner Malcolm Gillis told council the property is zoned small urban community, which does not permit a marine assembly and repair facility.

The land use bylaw and the municipal planning strategy would need to be amended, he said.

Mark Head, David Kelloway, Matthew MacNeil and Rene Gionet are looking forward to working at a new boat building business proposed for the old Gowrie School.

“I don’t see here where this is a blatant violation of any policy,” Gillis said at the meeting. “I think what planning staff really like about this, it’s a proposal to convert a recently abandoned school. We’ve all got those in our communities.

“It’s a business that supports the fishery in Port Morien, and it’s a small-scale family-run business with a small number of employees. I see it as a win for the municipality to at least consider this as a reasonable development option.”

Council has asked Gillis for an issue paper on the proposal and expects to make a decision next month.

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