Yesterday, Nova Scotia announced 73 new cases of COVID-19 over three days (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday).
The Department of Health explained that:
There is a large cluster of linked cases in a defined group in Northern Zone. Most of the group is unvaccinated, so more cases are expected.
There are signs of community spread among those in Central Zone aged 20 to 40 who are unvaccinated and participating in social activities.
I reported on the demographic and geographic details of the recent cases here.
A bit of context: from my understanding, about half of the 73 cases are an inter-connected group of unvaccinated people in the Northern Zone. It doesn’t take a lot of thinking to figure out who this group is, but I’ll leave it up to them to speak, should they want to. Rest assured, however, that outbreak is of almost no risk to the wider population, although of course we should be concerned about them.
That leaves the other half, which is in the same ballpark of about 10 cases a day that the province has been announcing over the past week or so, and about half of those are travel-related. So there should be concern, but not panic. The situation is manageable.
Premier Tim Houston and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang have scheduled a COVID briefing for 3pm today. I don’t have any confirmed inside information, but I suspect that tomorrow’s Phase 5 reopening will be tempered a bit, perhaps by extending the mask mandate, but we’ll see. I’ll be live-tweeting the briefing on my Twitter account.
2. Housing at Dalhousie
Like most everyone else in Halifax, Dalhousie students are facing the housing crisis, with many finding that there are either no apartments available at all, or that the apartments that are available are beyond their budgets.
I’m told the university fears some international students may simply give up on attending Dal and return home. The university has booked a block of hotel rooms to help students in the short term, but it is anticipated that at least some students will be sleeping in public spaces on campus.
I asked Dal spokesperson Allison Currie for more details and if I could interview someone in Student Services about the housing situation, but I only got back a boilerplate response:
Thanks for your patience. Unfortunately, I don’t have anyone for you to speak with but can offer the following statement in lieu of that.
As in most years, the majority of our students are looking for accommodations off campus. However we are aware that some of our students are impacted by the current Halifax housing market and we continue to work with partners on options to support students looking for housing.
We also have a number of supports as well for students, including our Off-campus Advisor, who can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org to personally support students as they navigate the Halifax housing market. Our off-campus housing website, dal.ca/och, offers helpful resources and a link to the Places4Students website, which lists available accommodations.
3. Black News
Matthew Byard continues his weekly roundup of Black News. The entire thing is worth reading, but this bit is super fun:
Speaking of CBC’s Portia Clark, after mentioning her twice in last week’s Black News File, Examiner editor Suzanne Rent pointed out to me that I had erroneously referred to her as Portia White in one of those instances. Portia White, of course, is the celebrated late Black/African Nova Scotian opera singer who reached international fame in her lifetime. Thankfully, Rent corrected my error prior to publishing. (Editor’s note: Suzanne Rent here! I’ve made this same error and corrected it after a reader pointed it out).
I remembered Clark gracefully laughing off the same mistake being made on an occasion where a speaker was introducing her as panel moderator in front of about 200 people at a community meeting at the Halifax North Branch Library two years ago. I thought to myself that this must be a common thing, so I went on a private social media page and asked: “Show of hands: who all, AT SOME POINT, has referred to Portia Clark as Portia White, and/or Viola Desmond as Viola Davis?” — as I had once, years ago, pointed out to an Examiner writer that they had mistakenly referred to Nova Scotia’s late Viola Desmond as American actor Viola Davis. And then there were some interesting comments from David Woods and Portia Clark herself. See below:
4. Matthieu Aikins in Afghanistan
I wrote about Halifax native Matthieu Aikins in March, when he was then reporting on art looted from Afghanistan:
There are some people with such large presences that they stick with you forever. One of those people in my life is Matthieu Aikins.
I met Aikins when I was an editor at The Coast and he was a talented young freelancer. I had immense respect for his work and encouraged him to write more, but I completely understood when he told me he was going to take six months and bum around Europe.
I heard from him from Prague, but then not again for I think a year. He popped up with an amazing tale: on nearly a whim, he ended up on the Turkmenistan/Afghanistan border, and had decided to cross over to the war-torn Afghanistan. He grew a beard and passed as a member of one of Afghanistan minority groups, a Hazara, I think, and travelled around the country at great risk to himself.
Aikins lived to tell the tale, obviously, but also fell in love with the country. He took up residence part-time in Kabul, before moving to New York. But then he made a remarkable journey to Pakistan, where he managed to slip back over the Afghani border and interview one of the most storied and violent warlords in the country, in Kandahar.
Over the years he also reported on apparent war crimes by US troops in Afghanistan. He’s been published in Harpers and the New York Times, among other publications.
Aikins still lives in Kabul, and evidently has no intention of leaving. Instead, he is now the New York Times’ primary reporter in Afghanistan, and one of the few western reporters to have interviewed Taliban leaders.
It was unnerving hearing Aikins interviewed on the Time’s The Daily podcast, which opens with sounds of gunfire — celebratory gunfire, but still — around Aikins’ house, the night the Taliban took Kabul. “There’s just tons of fighters everywhere, and they’re just letting rip,” Aikins tells host Michael Barbaro, with what to me was alarming nonchalance.
Aikins’ reporting is nuanced and deep. He critically reports on both the Taliban and the US — the latter with a series of investigative reports about the drone bombing of a car during the airlift from the Kabul airport, which appears to have killed a completely innocent family.
It’s odd having an old friend at the heart of the biggest international new story, but again, Aikins continues to be that large presence.
6. Newbridge Academy / Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial
In 2019, the province bought the old Newbridge Academy in Burnside in order to use it as a Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial (CSAP) school. The seller was Donald MacDonald of Somerled Properties. MacDonald is also the president of DORA Construction.
CSAP enrolment was and continues to boom, and so the quick addition of an existing building — rather than constructing a new building over several years — made sense.
But documents recently released in response to a freedom of information request show the purchase had some downsides. Wrote Kimberly Cooke, the Director, Engineering, Design & Construction at the Department of Transportation and Infrastructural Renewal to her colleagues, in a May 14, 2019 email:
We went out last evening to have a look at the Newbridge Academy. We will be able to provide more detailed information later this week, but essentially, the main issue is that many of the typical program spaces provided by EECD are not in this school. They do not have a functioning kitchen in the cafeteria, they do not have a Tech Ed lab (wood shop), Nutrition and Textiles, Art Room, Gym, etc., etc.
While they do have a field house, you can’t play volleyball or basketball there so it is pretty limited. Their focus is soccer and golf and hockey (using rinks across the road), so no real gym.
Their classrooms are only 600 sf so considerably smaller than our standard, but may work here. They only have 20 students per class hence the smaller size.
There is no real bus drop off loop which would be required and no real separation of car and bus traffic.
Additionally, the quality of construction is light duty so fine for short term but the team described it as a 20 year building. The building is already showing wear and there is evidence the roof is leaking. Windows are limited and they are all fixed (no operable windows). This was viewed to be fine as the building is air conditioned however our mechanical observed that air flow was not great and the building was quite hot yesterday.
We also observed some possible code violations — follow up is required.
The next section in Cooke’s email is redacted from the documents released to the public.
On July 9, 2019, Joe MacEachern, the executive director of Finance and Facilities at the Department of Education, expressed his concerns about the building:
Apparently there was a meeting last week to discuss Newbridge Academy.
I have seen a document that shows the modifications as $10M with 52,575 square feet (sf) impacted resulting in a total new gross square footage for the school of 96,692 sf.
Do the sf numbers ring true?
By my calculation based on our standard gross up that would mean the programs spaces after the redesign of the building would be 64,460 sf.
Will the redesigned school be almost 100,000 sf?
There’s no answer to MacEachern’s question in the documents made public.
On July 22, 2019, Diane Saurette, then the executive director of Finance and Strategic Capital Infrastructure at TIR, sent around a presentation titled “Newbridge Academy — Opportunity to Purchase,” which was to be made before the Treasury Board five days later. The problem is, the document that is made public is almost entirely redacted, with only the comparison cost of building a new school — $31.268 million — not redacted.
On August 19, 2019, Saurette shared an Appraisal Report of the Newbridge property prepared by the Altus Group. In the cover letter, appraiser Arthur Savary explains:
Given that there is limited market for the property and little direct market evidence upon which to rely, which could impact the reliability of the estimate, the value is expressed as a range. The concluded value range as of the effective date July 17, 2019 subject to the Ordinary Assumptions and Limiting Conditions as attached hereto and the Extraordinary Assumption with respect to DC-350 standards is $16,200,000 to $17,900,000 based on a 5%+/- range around my primary conclusion as expressed below.
Subject to the Ordinary Assumptions and Limiting Conditions in Appendix A and the Extraordinary Assumptions in Section 1.4, it is my opinion that the current market value of the fee simple interest in the subject property, effective July 17, 2019 is:
Seventeen Million Dollars
Based on this estimate of market value, the liquidity of the subject property is considered to be “Poor” as defined at Appendix A. I estimate that an exposure of 9 to 12 months would have been required prior to the effective date to sell the subject property at its current market value.
But then, in September 2019, when the sale was finalized, the final purchase price was $18.5 million, with another $10 million allocated for renovations.
It’s not explained in the newly released documents how the property went from an appraised value of $17 million to a purchase price of $18.5 million, but what’s $1.5 million between friends, eh?
Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am) — via YouTube
Halifax Regional Council (Wednesday, 1pm) — if required
No meetings this week.
Turn Financial Literacy into Capability (Tuesday, 12pm) — webinar to learn how to make meaningful changes to spending and overall financial health
Raising Our Hands: Indigenous Data Sovereignty & Relationality in LIS (Tuesday, 1pm) — online lecture with Kayla Lar-Son from the X̱wi7x̱wa Library, University of British Columbia
Locally bounded enriched categories (Tuesday, 2:30pm) — Zoom seminar with Jason Parker from Brandon University
In the harbour
05:30: Siem Confucius, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
11:30: Siem Confucius sails for sea
15:00: Manzanillo, bulker, sails from Pier 28 for sea
16:00: Trinitas, cargo ship, sails from Pier 31 for sea
17:30: Horizon Arctic, offshore supply ship, arrives at Dartmouth Cove from Marystown, Newfoundland
20:00: Island Champion, offshore supply ship, arrives at anchorage from Montrose, Scotland
05:00: Seavelvet, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from Es Sider, Libya
16:45: Horizon Enabler, offshore supply ship, arrives at Mulgrave from St. John’s
18:30: Siem Pilot, offshore supply vessel, sails from Liberty Dock (Sydney) for sea
What fresh horrors will I be reporting on today?