PORT HAWKESBURY: A native of Princeville and her business partner in Montreal have launched a major upgrade of four local apartment buildings, with the hope of moving in tenants as early as February.

Danita Rooyakkers and her partner Attila Tolnai, under the auspices of their Quebec-based company BUILD, have purchased the four buildings on the corner of Queens and Sydney Streets that previously rented units under the Strait Apartments banner. The company is now accepting applications for 12 units in the first structure to be renovated, with these units expected to be officially assigned later this month.

While the quartet of buildings has fallen into disrepair over the past decade, Rooyakkers saw potential in the buildings that were known as Canso Court when she came into Port Hawkesbury with her father years earlier to make deliveries from their family farm in Inverness County.

“My parents built [the farm] from the ground up… Their incredible work ethic has always inspired me and I grew up not being afraid of challenges,” Rooyakkers told The Reporter.

“When I saw the buildings that had imprinted in my mind since childhood… being boarded up, I got excited. Instead of what many people felt was an eyesore, I envisioned a renewed project.”

BUILD plans to establish half of the complex’s apartments as affordable housing units.

With this in mind, BUILD is launching the newly-rebranded Breton Apartments with an eye towards assisting Port Hawkesbury officials in their drive to provide more affordable housing to local residents. A partnership with Housing Nova Scotia (HNS) will see half of the 48 available units designed as affordable-housing rentals, with BUILD and HNS working together to determine appropriate rental fees for this portion of the development.

“It was my sense in speaking to people in the town that more affordable and more appealing accommodations were required,” Rooyakkers recalled.

“This was in regards to local residents, persons wishing to relocate to Port Hawkesbury to be closer to amenities, and students arriving to the town to attend the [Nova Scotia Community College].”

While landscaping efforts, including community gardens and umbrella clotheslines, will get underway this spring, BUILD has already overhauled the first Breton Apartments building slated to welcome tenants and is continuing to work on the remaining three buildings. This work includes replacement of windows and doors, repairing the buildings’ exterior shell, upgrades to all interior finishes, flooring, plumbing and electrical work, new kitchens and bathrooms, as well as new lighting and plumbing fixtures, hot water tanks and electrical panels.

Through it all, Rooyakkers – who spent 20 years in Montreal developing “diverse residential projects” with Tolnai – is grateful for the opportunity to contribute to Port Hawkesbury’s short-term and long-term future.

“Spending our summers in Nova Scotia, it was the opportunity we had been searching for, to be able to do something on the home front,” she recalled.

“To date the town and its residents have been very supportive and we have had a lot of inquiries for renting… We thank the town, the residents and everyone involved for the continued support.”

For more information, including regular updates on the renovation project and availability of units, visit the Web site: www.the-breton.com.