A new school is coming to Kenmount Terrace. The proposed site is already part of a court battle

The proposed site of a long-awaited school in Kenmount Terrace is the subject of a lawsuit in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court.
The proposed site of a long-awaited school in Kenmount Terrace is the subject of a lawsuit in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

A St. John's contractor is claiming the provincial government broke a promise to buy land where it plans to build the new Kenmount Terrace school, according to documents filed in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador last February.

The statement of claim, filed on behalf of Karwood Contracting, says the company had an agreement with a land developer, Patrick Street Holdings, to buy lots and build homes on the land on Ladysmith Drive over a five-year period.

According to those court documents, the provincial government representatives reached out to Karwood Contracting last September — just two days before announcing the new school — and offered to buy the land.

During the announcement on Sept. 28, Premier Andrew Furey referred to the location as the "heart" of the community.

Negotiations on a purchase price began, but according to the statement, on Oct. 23, the provincial government informed the company that it would be expropriating the land.

According to the statement of claim, Karwood Contracting wasn't building on the land because it was waiting for the expropriation process to begin — but that didn't happen. Since the company wasn't building on the land, the developer terminated its contract with Karwood Contracting.

Now, Karwood Contracting is suing both the provincial government and Patrick Street Holdings for damages. The statement of claim accuses the provincial government of making "misleading" statements and of being "negligent" by not initiating the expropriation process.

Greg Hussey, president of Karwood Contracting, declined an interview, citing the ongoing litigation.

The lawyer representing Patrick Street Holdings, Thomas Fraize, did not respond to a request for comment. However, a counterclaim filed on behalf of the developer states Karwood Contracting breached its contract to buy lots and build homes on the land, which it agreed to do in 2021.

Expropriation underway: Abbott

On Tuesday, during a separate announcement, Transportation and Infrastructure Minister John Abbott said he had signed documents to expropriate the land that morning.

"There is some, apparently, debate amongst one owner and somebody, but it has nothing to do with our department," he said.

Abbott said he expected the expropriation process to take about 10 days. He said the school is on schedule to open for the fall of 2026, and the provincial government will issue a request for proposals for the design and build of the school by this fall.

Expropriation is a relatively routine way for the provincial government to procure land for a public purpose, like schools or hospitals.

Raymond Critch, a lawyer at McInnis Cooper who specializes in property disputes, said the provincial government will usually negotiate with the landowner on a price for the land. If the parties can't reach an agreement, the Public Utilities Board will step in to determine the value of the land.

WATCH | The CBC's Darrell Roberts explains the legal wrangling over the land for a new St. John's school:

Critch said land under legal dispute — like the site of the Kenmount Terrace school — can still be expropriated.

"It really doesn't matter which of these developers owns the land. In the end, the government can expropriate and let them figure out who gets paid what," he said.

Raymond Critch is a lawyer at McInnis Cooper, specializing in complex litigation like property disputes.
Raymond Critch is a lawyer at McInnis Cooper, specializing in complex litigation like property disputes. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

CBC News asked the education and infrastructure departments for comment on the allegations that the province broke its agreement to buy the land from Karwood Contracting.

In a statement, spokesperson Maria Browne reiterated Abbott's statement – that expropriation is unrelated to the court action. The statement did not address the allegations that were made in the lawsuit.

Critch said he's seen property disputes drag out for a decade or more, but that doesn't mean the ongoing litigation will delay the school's 2026 opening.

"The reality is anything can happen if there's political will and enough money to make it happen," he said. "It's just a question of how much they're willing to push or need to push."

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